Oct 122018
 

Latest IPCC report warns we have 12 years to limit climate catastrophe

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Monday’s dire International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report weighed heavy on my mind as our family sat down for Thanksgiving dinner. While my three grandchildren giggled and squirmed on their chairs with innocent joy, it was hard not to feel deep sadness and anxiety for their future.

My grandson, Louie. What does the future hold for his generation if we continue to ignore the warnings of devastating climate change – photo by Drew Monkman

 

The international climate science community has just 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 one-degree of warming), the result will be soaring death rates, huge waves of climate refugees, devastating coastal flooding, the demise of all coral reefs, and unprecedented planet-wide species extinction. The predicted economic cost is counted in the tens of trillions of dollars.

The report does provide a glimmer of hope, however: Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible. To get there, greenhouse gas emissions would have to be cut by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, and then brought to zero by 2050.

Last week, I offered a hopeful vision of what Peterborough and the world could look like in 20 years, if decarbonization of the world economy was to become a reality. The vision incorporated everything from electric vehicles, dietary changes and more energy efficient homes to cancelling any new fossil fuel projects and accepting a carbon tax with revenues returned to the citizens. With this vision in mind, I want to focus on what we as individuals can do right now. But first, let’s get some real-world reasons for hope.

Inspiration

On a per capita basis, Canadians emit 15.6 tons of greenhouse gases, which is just slightly less than Americans. Looking at countries with a climate similar to ours, the Finns only emit 0.09 tons, Swedes 3.86 tons, and Norwegians 6.87 tons. Clearly, it’s possible for Canada to do much better. Scotland has already cut its emissions almost in half from 1990 levels. China and India are making huge leaps forward in deploying green energy, and the cost per kilowatt/hour for producing solar-generated electricity has fallen by 80 per cent since 2009. Wind power is also showing similar steep declines in cost. Affordable technology is available right now to vastly improve Canada’s performance.

Individual action

As much as recycling, driving a fuel-efficient vehicle and reducing meat consumption are important, they will not be enough. Changing social norms and taking political action are key.

1. Vote wisely: At this, the eleventh hour, a meaningful response must be led by all levels of government, including our local municipal councils. On October 22, I will be voting for a mayor and city councillors who understand the issue of climate change and are ready to act aggressively.

To understand how Peterborough can reduce its carbon emissions, I highly recommend reading the Greater Peterborough Area Community Sustainability Plan, which is posted at sustainablepeterborough.ca. The plan shows us how the interdependence of environment, economy, social life and culture must all be considered when government plans for the future. As voters, we must ask our candidates to explain how they would implement the policies in the document, and elect those whose understanding of what needs to be done is most  convincing. For a list of candidates in your ward as well as contact information, visit PeterboroughVotes.ca.

Diane Therrien would make an excellent choice for Mayor of Peterborough in the October 22, 2018 election.

I also urge everyone to consult the “City Council Report Card” (at v4sp.ca) to see how local candidates compare when it comes to supporting sustainability. Based on past voting patterns (for incumbents) and the responses to a sustainability questionnaire each candidate received, the most progressive voices include Diane Therrien, Dean Pappas, Kemi Akapo, Jane Davidson, Jim Russell, Gary Baldwin, Keith Riel, Sheila Wood, Don Vassiliadis, Charmaine Magumbe,  Kim Zippel, Stephen Wright and Zach Hatton.

2. Phone your elected representatives:  Simply picking up the phone and talking to your elected representative or their office is hugely important. I recently heard that one reason the National Rifle Association is such a powerful force in the U.S. is because they make sure politicians’ phones ring off the hook when legislation is proposed that runs counter to their (misguided!) interests. Call the office of MPP Dave Smith (705-742-3777) and voice your support for either a meaningful price on carbon in Ontario or regulations that will accomplish the same amount of greenhouse gas reduction. Insist that the Ford government do its part to honour Canada’s Paris Accord promises. Let MP Maryam Monsef (705-745-2108) know you support the Liberal’s policy of imposing a carbon tax on provinces that do not have their own. Insist that revenues from the tax be directly refunded to households and not to the provincial governments in question. (N.B. The 2018 Nobel prize for economics was awarded to William Nordhaus for his groundbreaking work on carbon taxes. It’s clearly an idea that has huge merit.) If you live outside of Peterborough County, contact your elected representatives, as well.

3. Talk about climate change: We need to spread social norms that are positive to solutions. One of the most important actions we can all take is to simply talk about climate change with friends and family. Right now, many of us don’t even want to broach the topic. However, we’re often wrong in “what we think others think.” Most people are far more concerned about climate change than they ever acknowledge publicly. The more that people hear conversations on the topic, the more socially validated these conversations become. Showing your concerns and personal observations about the climate makes it easier for others to open up, as well.

You don’t have to be an expert. You really only need to say that 97% of climate scientists agree it’s happening now,  it’s caused by humans and it’s going to get terribly worse if nothing is done. Mention the latest IPCC report. You could then add, “I believe the experts. If they were wrong on the fundamentals, we’d know it by now.” By simply stating, “I’m terribly worried about my kids’ and grandkid’s future,” you are communicating a message that others can relate to. Emphasize the solutions, nearly all of which are available now. Talk about the benefits to our health and to job creation. Most importantly, stress the importance of acting immediately.

It’s vitally important to be talking more about climate change with friends, families and even strangers. (photo by Mikhail Gorbunov via  Wikimedia)

Start the conversation where others are at on the subject – not where they should be. How do you know? Ask them. Listen to their answers with patience and interest. It might be their family’s future, new diseases, severe weather events, or something else. Connect the issue to Peterborough and the Kawarthas. People are most open to acknowledging climate change when they are able to observe its effects locally. Point out the severe wind storms, the countless trees we’ve lost, the flood of 2004, the 23 days this summer over 30 C, the longer and more intense allergy season, and the invasive species choking our lakes and woodlands. Try to connect what you say to the values you share with this person – love of the outdoors or of family, for example. Remember, too, that the moment at which someone reverses a previously held opinion rarely happens during a single conversation. The goal is to increase the amount of conversation, not to make conversions on the spot or keep score. Be polite and challenge falsehoods or inaccuracies gently. In a world where there is already so much combativeness, your commitment to simple humanity, compassion, and respect will stand out.

A handful of people still deny the very reality of climate change. Many others don’t see the urgency of taking action or don’t support a carbon tax. You might ask these people the following: How have you come to this conclusion? How confident are you in this belief? Are you sure? Do you really think the scientists have got it wrong? If I showed you studies disproving what you’re saying, would that make a difference? What would make you change your mind? If not a carbon tax, how else could we quickly wean society off fossil fuels?

4. Be informed: For basic information on the greenhouse effect and climate change, I recommend climate.nasa.gov and realclimate.org. To learn how to address climate change denial arguments, visit skepticalscience.com. To stay up to date on the latest climate news, subscribe to the free Daily Climate newsletter at dailyclimate.org 

5. Be active on social media: Share climate change information online and start discussions on social media platforms such as Facebook. You’ll be surprised by how many people will engage.

Is it too late?

Clearly, time is running out. Humanity essentially has ten years to cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost half. There’s no excuse this time; each and everyone of us who is concerned about our kids’ and grandkids’ future —and the natural world as we know it – must act.

My friend, Laura, recently shared an anecdote, which, I think, can give us hope. She wrote, “The survival skills of living creatures are incredible. For me, this really hit home when I rescued a dying snake plant. I had picked it out of a garbage can – sick, uprooted, dehydrated and leafless. I focused on supplying the basic needs: nutrients, water, sun and love – and then let it be. It wasn’t until two months later that the first root sprouted. I was thrilled! Since then, it has matured into a gorgeous, healthy plant. It surpassed the odds of a sure death. It not only survived but flourished.” As Laura says, every life form has evolved to maximize the same outcome: survival and, with time, flourishing. It’s in our human nature to do the same. Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.

Oct 052018
 

Looking ahead to Peterborough and the world of  2038 

“The universe is a communion of subjects – not a collection of objects.”  Thomas Berry

Here is the reality we face, courtesy of the laws of physics. Scientists have calculated how much more greenhouse gas (GHG) humans can emit before temperatures spill over the critical threshold of 2 C of warming. Above this, unstoppable feedback loops such as melting permafrost are likely to create “Hothouse Earth” conditions, making much of the planet uninhabitable. If emissions continue at current rates, we will reach this threshold in just 20 years. To avoid this disaster scenario, emissions need to peak by 2020 and approach zero by 2050. This will mean cutting global emissions by half every decade. We will also need mass deployment of solar and wind energy, enhancement of carbon-absorbing forests, behavioral changes, technological innovations and transformed social values. Right now, we are nowhere near on track to meet this goal.

In my last two columns (posted at drewmonkman.com), I looked at the many obstacles that thwart action on climate change. This week and next, I’ll consider some possible ways forward. To move ahead, we require an inspiring vision of how Peterborough and the world of could look in two decades.

A hopeful vision

It’s mid-October 2038, and my wife and I have just hobbled onto one of the guided light transit buses that will whisk us from our Little Lake condominium to the beautifully restored Trent Nature Areas. Looking out the bus window, I’m still astounded by how much Peterborough has been transformed.

And, yes, the climate itself has changed more or less as predicted. Spring weather now arrives about a month earlier. This means mosquitoes are already a pest by mid-April, and the pollen and allergy season starts earlier and lasts longer. Mild fall conditions last well into December, and winter as we knew it is a fading memory. Summer is much hotter, too, with about one-third of the days over 30 C. Although severe wind and rainstorms are more frequent, major investments in infrastructure have allowed Peterborough to adapt. In fact, thanks to the massive decarbonization of the planet that began in 2020, most scientists are confident that the Hothouse Earth scenario has been avoided. In fact, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is actually starting to fall, thanks to new carbon removal technologies. One such technology was developed here at Trent University and used in a plant near Millbrook. Technology has also revolutionized air travel, thanks in part to the use of fuel from biomass. People also fly less.

As the electric bus makes its way north through the downtown – now closed to private automobiles – I admire how landscaping features and the architectural style of both new and renovated buildings reflect our local cultural heritage and ecology. A sense of place permeates the city.

“Human scale” describes the new Peterborough. We have a fully integrated transport system comprised of walkways, cycle paths, and both transit and car lanes. Thanks to compact city development, car ownership is no longer the necessity it once was. In fact, most families now only own one car – electric, of course – or make use of car-sharing. City speed limits have also been lowered and pedestrian zones surround most of our schools

Although the population has doubled, all of the new housing has been provided within the existing city boundaries thanks to the 2019 intensification and redevelopment plan. Residential neighbourhoods are now mixed-use and high density, thanks in part to renovations to single-family homes to create rental units and small businesses. Solar panels and pollinator gardens are everywhere, and the huge investment in shade trees – albeit mostly heat-tolerant southern species – provides much appreciated shade. The best news, however, is that Peterborough’s development model reflects urban living across much of the planet.

How did this revolution happen? If I remember correctly, it went something like this. As climate change and its ripple effects caused more and more developing countries to teeter on the brink of collapse, the tide of refugees overwhelmed much of Europe and North America. A non-stop series of wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, rising sea levels and insect-borne diseases almost bankrupted many countries. In Canada, this led to acceptance of an aggressive nation-wide price on carbon, in which most of the revenue was returned to the citizens. People weren’t necessarily more enamored by big government, but they realized that their very survival depended on a collective response. North Americans came to realize that we can’t live in isolation and that the only way for any country to prosper was through a more egalitarian world. This led to a huge investment in developing countries, many of which had been left behind by our new, high-tech global economy. International tensions were greatly reduced and billions of dollars were saved in military spending.

The many extreme weather events made us realize we can’t be complacent. People began to make noise, realizing we live in a democracy and have the power of our votes and our wallets. The impetus for change came from nearly every quarter: anglers and cottagers were shocked by the degradation of our lakes, plummeting walleye numbers and the proliferation of invasive species; winter sports enthusiasts lamented the disappearance of backyard rinks and the scant and unreliable snow cover; while farmers bemoaned the increasingly frequent droughts and floods.

In this future scenario, climate action was spurred by multiple concerns, including degradation of local lakes. Here we see a new invasive species – Starry Stonewort. Special to Examiner

We also learned to have respectful conversations with people who denied or downplayed the seriousness of climate change. Some say it was a positive backlash to the divisiveness that boiled over during the Trump presidency. By engaging multiple perspectives – including conservative values such as personal responsibility  – people began to think differently and seriously engage with what climate science was telling us. All of this has helped to usher in a model of prosperity focussed more on quality of life and deeper respect for the natural world.

We realized that we were all in this together and that only a planet-wide solution could turn things around. Maybe the biggest change has been in how we think about “economy”. We are much more engaged with the idea of assuring the “continuation of all forms of life” on the planet. What happens in the Arctic and in developing countries, for example, affects us here. As Pope Francis said back in 2015, “Nothing is indifferent to us,” be it poverty, famine, homelessness, sexism, racism, species extinction or carbon pollution. Everything eventually comes home to roost.

Despite the loss of jobs from closing the Alberta tarsands and cancelling new pipelines, the huge expansion of renewable energy projects has created millions of jobs planet-wide, including thousands in the Kawarthas. Retrofitting existing houses to make them more energy-efficient has generated enormous employment, too. Many people are also working in habitat restoration and creation. There’s actually a project underway to create a series of connected wetlands in Peterborough. They will not only provide wildlife habitat but also absorb much of the water from the intense rainstorms we now see.

While my wife and I chat about all these changes, she reminds me how much feminine values have permeated society. My daughters tell me, too, how much they were influenced by role models like Rachel Carson, Harriet Tubman, Jane Jacobs, Vandana Shiva, and Christine Blasey Ford. By privileging female perspectives – informed by love, compassion and nurturing – we see greater collaboration across society. The vastly increased number of women in leadership roles in business, science and politics, along with an unleashing of anger by female voters at economic, social and environmental injustices, helped make this happen. Having had a woman mayor in Peterborough for 20 years, along with a majority of councillors either female or of colour, has been a huge difference maker locally.

As the bus passes alongside the Otonabee River with its busy new biking and walking trail, I recall how people began linking climate-friendly behaviour to health, safety, and both clean air and water. This became clear as many of us contracted Lyme disease due to the northward expansion of ticks. People were also alarmed by the increase in mental illness, which health professionals linked to the devastating storms and unprecedented heat waves. We’ve also learned that even a short walk in local green space like the Parkway Green Corridor can make us feel so much better. It’s now common knowledge that regular exposure to nature plays a key role in our physical, mental and spiritual health. This has led to the huge popularity of practises like Forest Therapy.

In the Peterborough of 2038 it is well known that regular exposure to nature contributes to our physical, mental and spiritual health. Photo by Drew Monkman

As we pass the new Patio Restaurant overlooking the river, I’m still amazed that locally-produced food makes up most of our diet and helps the local economy. Both plant-based and cultured meats are now extremely popular. By drastically reducing the consumption of conventional meat, GHGs dropped by 15%. What we’ve learned about animal consciousness and suffering also helped to bring about this change. Hunting, however, remains relatively popular, with little stigma attached to harvesting and eating game. And, yes, we still love fast food but gone are single-use plastic containers, bottles and straws.

Arriving at Trent, we make our way to the fully accessible trails. As a group of students pass by, I reflect on how education has changed, too. The curriculum now embodies Indigenous values such as gratitude and reciprocity towards nature. Teachers act more as “facilitators” and use a problem solving approach. They assist each child to clearly define the issues, analyse patterns and causes, research reliable websites, employ critical thinking skills and choose the best solutions.

I realize that my foray into the future may seem optimistic, but a response of this magnitude is the reality we face.

 

Sep 222018
 

Peterborough Field Naturalists Sunday AM Nature Walk (Sept. 30)

Today, a group of us walked along the hydro corridor west of Hetherington Dr. (just south of Woodland) and into the north end of University Heights Park. We enjoyed the abundant asters (e.g., New England, Heath, Panicled, Heart-leaved), Zig-Zag Goldenrod, White Baneberry with its doll’s-eye fruit and a single Jack-in-the-Pulpit with its ball of red fruit. Birds of interest included White-throated Sparrow (20), White-crowned Sparrow (1), Song Sparrow (12), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1), Golden-crowned Kinglet (1), Eastern Towhee (1), Nashville Warbler (1), Palm Warbler (1), Belted Kingfisher (1), Pileated Woodpecker (1), Northern Flicker (1) and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (1). Earlier, we found a single Swainson’s Thrush on the Parkway Trail, just south of Cumberland Drive. Drew Monkman

White-crowned Sparrow (immature) – University Heights Hydro Corridor – Sept. 30, 2018, Reem Ali

 

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet has a prominent eye ring. (Karl Egressy)

Golden-crowned Kinglet – Karl Egressy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln’s Sparrow (2) via eBird
– Reported Sep 30, 2018 07:36 by Donald A. Sutherland
– Peterborough–Trent Rotary Rail Trail, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Lincoln’s Sparrow – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barred Owl (1) via eBird
– Reported Sep 27, 2018 13:01 by Daniel Williams
– Ingleton-Wells Property (Kawartha Land Trust), Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Barred Owl on Northey’s Bay Road – Jeff Keller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peregrine Falcon  (1) via eBird
– Reported Sep 27, 2018 08:12 by Iain Rayner
– Peterborough–Millennium Park, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Large adult eating bird atop 300 Water St.”

Peregrine – by Stephanie Pineau – Jan. 13, 2015 – PRHC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Teal (2) via eBirds
– Reported Sep 23, 2018 10:36 by Rene Gareau
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Blue-winged Teal – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squirrels hoarding rocks:  I just found your site and wanted to add my comments regarding gray & black squirrels stealing rocks. Here in Chilliwack, BC  we have been observing squirrels stealing hundreds of rocks every fall and winter. They steal all sizes, types, and work all day to take away their treasure. This usually starts when seasons change with wet and cooler days arriving. I think they hoard the rocks to stabilize their dreys and also putting the flat ones inside the nest to warm the bed over the winter for the young when they are born and vulnerable. I’m basing this on many hours of watching squirrel behavior from our living room which faces a heavily forested back garden. My husband and I are constantly renewing our landscaping rocks with humour at the hard work of these amazing little critters. Jenne Breedon, Chilliwack, BC

(Note: For other reports on this behaviour, see November 30, 2014 )

Gray Squirrel with stone – Nov. 2014 – Ginny Clark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lincoln’s Sparrow (2) via eBird
– Reported Sep 23, 2018 13:53 by Luke Berg
– LHT Redmond Rd to Drummond Line , Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Lincoln’s Sparrow – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starry Stonewort, a new aquatic invasive species:  I want to let you know about a (new to me) threat to our Kawartha Lakes. A macro  algae has infested Lake Scugog and is now thriving in parts of Stony, notably the Lost Channel. Starry Stonewort has no roots and forms masses up to six feet deep floating below the surface.  Carol Cole, a cottager on Stony Lake writes: “It was first noticed there a couple of summers ago.  The channel is not open water really; it is more of a wetland environment.  The alga is now covering large sections of the wetland and has spread incredibly quickly into the bays on either end.  One of the bays is now almost totally covered.  It used to be a very weedy area but now it looks clear of weeds – unless you look down.  The bay at the other end isn’t quite as bad but it will be by next summer.  Both of these bays lead directly to the main boating channel of the Trent-Severn Waterway.  Both have cottages and boat traffic. Not far from the bay already covered is a wetland that has been declared provincially significant. Starry Stonewort spreads by fragmentation and the only way to stop it from spreading to other lakes is to clean, dry and drain out boats, canoes or kayaks before leaving the lake. Since this is already in Stoney Lake there isn’t anything we can do about it. All we can do now is prevent it from reaching other lakes. ”

Please spread the word! Sandra Burri, Kawartha Park, Clear Lake

Starry Stonewort from Lake Scugog – Scugog Lake Stewards photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More about Starry Stonewort:  CLIMATE CHANGE REALITY IN SCUGOG SHOULD CHANGE OUR PEOPLE-CENTRIC VIEW OF OUR LAKE. Ours is a shallow lake held at its current height by a dam at Lindsay. As a result of increased temperatures, increased storm water runoff, difficult invasive species due to our location in Southern Ontario and increased development, ours is an ecosystem that is vulnerable and susceptible to change. This year, the lake has generally been excellent for recreation and surface aesthetics because of a vast understory of the invasive alga, Starry Stonewort (SS) and abundant zebra mussels that enjoy co-habiting with SS. But is this good habitat for everything else that lives in, on or above the lake? The Stewards and our colleagues at U.O.I.T. and Kawartha Conservation are studying this new invader which seems to be spreading rapidly up throughout the hard-water Kawartha Lakes and Lake Simcoe. We have one more year in our Trillium grant funding for research, but we hope to extend our research for two more years, trying to ascertain the Ontario-wide spread and effects of this nasty invader. Use a rake to pull up a sample from the lake bottom. If you find a crunchy, green fishing line type bottom cover that is the algae — Starry Stonewort. CLEAN, DRAIN, DRY your boat before coming into, or going out of, Lake Scugog.  Scugog Lake Stewards, City of Kawartha Lakes

Cooper’s Hawk: We have a bird feeder outside our condo living room at the corner of Parkhill and Ravenwood Dr. On September 21, we were able to get this picture of a Cooper’s Hawk. We had never seen this bird before.  John & Stephanie MacDonald

Cooper’s Hawk – John MacDonald – Sept. 22 2018 – Peterborough

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake: My nephew and sister came across this Eastern Hog-nosed Snake recently at Wolf Lake near Apsley. Bill Astell, Peterborough

(Note: The Eastern Hog-nosed is a species at risk in Ontario and only rarely seen. DM)

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake – via Bill Astell – Sept. 2018 – Wolf Lake near Apsley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A “dew” bath: I witnessed something absolutely new for me on the morning of September 18. At about 7:30 am, I saw two Song Sparrows giving themselves a bath in the heavy dewed grass. They burrowed down and splashed the dew on by rapidly flicking their wings onto their backs. Michael Gillespie, Keene

Song Sparrow – Karl Egressy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sandhill Cranes: It is that time again when the Sandhill Cranes begin to gather before migrating south. In the area west of Lindsay (Black School Rd area) the gathering has already started. These pictures were taken on September 18.   Tim Corner

Sandhill Cranes – Lindsay area – Sept. 18 2018 – Tim Corner

Sandhill Cranes – Sept. 18 2018 – Lindsay area – Tim Corner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poecila Sphinx:  On Friday, September 14, we came across the caterpillar of the Poecila Sphinx Moth (also called Northern Apple Sphinx). It measured about two inches long. We had  never seen one before.  The caterpillar was on a Sweet Gale bush, a species that dominates the banks of the Indian River near our home. This plant can be used as an insecticide, can treat scabies, used with discretion to flavour soups and stews, flavours Gale beer, repels fleas, and the roots and bark produce a yellow dye for wool.  Quite a list!  The scent on the leaves was rather faint when I checked but given the time of year that’s not surprising.    Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Poecila Sphinx Moth caterpillar on Sweet Gale – Indian River – September 2018 – Stephenie Armstrong

Poecila Sphinx Moth caterpillar on Sweet Gale shrub – Indian River – September 2018 – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eastern Screech-Owl (via eBird):  – Reported Sep 13, 2018 20:10 by Patrick Scanlon- Indian River Road., Peterborough, Ontario- Map: – Checklist: – Comments: “Singing from the west side of the river.”

Eastern Screech-owl – Beaches area of Toronto – via Jamie Brockley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merlin: My husband, Michael, noticed this Merlin while we were having lunch on September 13. We watched it for about 10 to 15 minutes. It was looking at our bird feeder (and doing a bit of head bobbing) from the top of the umbrella of our outdoor picnic table. A few minutes  later it landed right on top of the bird feeder. Our feeder has been quite active with American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, chickadees, cardinals,  a few jays and some sparrows. The bird sort of half-heartedly swooped downward toward a scurrying squirrel before it left our yard. There were no smaller birds during the time of the visit of the Merlin. Not surprising. It was very cool!!  Helen Bested, Lynhaven Road, Peterborough

Merlin – Lynhaven Road – September 13, 2018 – Michael Bested

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imperial Moth caterpillar: On September 7, this Imperial Moth caterpillar, a member of the Giant Silkworm Moth family, was making its way along our side path, heading for river rocks abutting a flower bed.  I gather it feeds on a variety of plants including pines and oaks which we have in abundance.  And later that day, I saw another one floating vertically, head out of water, in our small creek that empties into the Indian River. I managed to retrieve it but there was no sign of life.  I hope one day to actually see this beautifully colored moth, though it is said to be in decline.  As you have explained in your book ‘Nature’s Year’, it is extremely attracted to light making it highly visible to predators.  Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Imperial Moth caterpillar – September 2018 – Indian River – Stephenie Armstrong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 212018
 

Additional obstacles to taking action on climate change

When Al Gore described climate change as an inconvenient truth, it was a mamoth understatement. In fact, it is more like a perfect storm. As I argued last week, a huge number of obstacles make it near impossible for humans to engage with the issue. Many of these relate to the very nature of our brains. We are brilliant when dealing with an immediate crisis like hurricanes, but largely paralyzed when facing a slow motion threat like climate change. I also introduced a framework in which to think about these barriers, namely the Five D’s: Distance, Doom, Dissonance, Denial and iDentity. This week, I will briefly touch on a number of other hurdles, which together point to the enormity of the challenge. The bottom line, however, is that we have at most 20 years – at current worldwide emission rates – before runaway, catastrophic climate chaos will be unavoidable.

1. It’s complicated: Climate change is complex. Unlike “the hole in the ozone layer”, it can’t be reduced to a single striking image. Greenhouse gases are invisible, and it’s hard to wrap our heads around concepts such as “a ton of carbon dioxide.” In addition, notions like “3 C of warming would be catastrophic” are not intuitively easy to understand. You therefore can’t blame people for thinking, “Yesterday was 3 C warmer, so what’s the big deal?”

2. Scant media attention: People who limit their information on climate change to traditional media like television, radio and newspapers have little sense of the urgency of the situation. The media works with our politicians to take the edge off the climate crisis. For example, pundits talk non-stop about the Trans Mountain pipeline fiasco, but make no mention of climate change. It’s only about the jobs at stake and how building the pipeline is in the national interest. There is implicit denial that a life-threatening situation is at hand. Hurricane Florence is another good example. Watching CNN, I heard no mention of climate change as a proven contributor to the intensity, size and slow motion advance of this storm. To be fair, the CBC, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Peterborough Examiner have greatly increased their coverage of the issue.

Weather reporting is even more problematic. Take The Weather Network, for example. Why isn’t there a dedicated, daily segment for climate change-related stories and basic climate education? The only time it’s ever mentioned is on their News segment. Is the reason because the depressing message would drive away listeners and alienate advertisers – car manufacturers, for example?

Daily weather forecasts don’t mention climate change, either. For example, there is never a comment comparing recent temperatures to the long-term normal and framing this in the context of climate change predictions proving accurate. We should be hearing statements like “Peterborough had four times as many 30+ C days this summer as usual. This is predicted to be the new normal by the 2030s.” All we hear is how wonderful all the heat and sunshine are.

Doug Ford has promised to cancel Ontario’s Cap and Trade program and to fight the federal government’s plan to impose a carbon tax on provinces who do not have their own. Photo from Wikimedia

 

3. Politics: The policies and actions of politicians such as Donald Trump and Doug Ford make it clear they don’t take climate change seriously. This attitude makes people feel we’ll be fine doing only a bare minimum – or nothing at all. When faced with a choice between economic growth and environmental responsibility, politicians invariably choose economic growth – the worldview of most voters and donors demands it.

Trudeau’s policies send mixed messages, as well. He seems to be saying that we can reduce carbon emissions while increasing the extraction and exporting of tar sands oil. He concluded that the only way to get Alberta on board with a pan-Canada price on carbon is to push forward for a pipeline. In terms of political realities, he may be right. However, climate change will not abide a “politics as usual” approach. We are facing a situation akin to wartime.

The policies of Premier Ford are even more  damaging. He has no known plan to address climate change and is quickly dismantling the many excellent programs brought in by the Liberals. Like Trump, he has framed climate change as politics of the left. Therefore, in an increasingly tribal mentality, more and more Conservatives are against any action as a basic principle.

4. A successful denial campaign: The blatant lying from the fossil fuel industry, which continues to willingly and knowingly suppress the truth about climate change, has been tragically effective. The tobacco industry used the same strategy to great success. By stoking fear, uncertainty and doubt, they have succeeded in delaying aggressive action. The difference is that most smokers only killed themselves.

5. Economics: Right wing politicians have been increasingly successful in framing initiatives such as a price on carbon as a tax grab. Consumers want low prices and a wide variety of choices with minimal government interference on our consumption behaviours. To make matters worse, the portfolios of many investors, both individuals and organizations, are heavily concentrated in fossil fuels. People expect profitable returns, so these companies have a mandate to deliver growth and profits. We therefore accept greenhouse gas pollution and ecosystem destruction as the necessary requirements of economic growth. In a modern world so disconnected from nature, environmental protection is almost seen as an expensive luxury.

On September 19, Kate Grierson, a climate change communicator, spoke at the Lion’s Centre. She discussed how to tackle climate change issues at the local level to a crowd of 50 people at an event organized by Ashburnham Ward councilors Gary Baldwin and Keith Riel. Photo from Wikimedia

6. Distrust of experts: Public understanding of science and the scientific method is poor. There is also a widespread perception that no single opinion is better than any other is – even when it comes from the scientists themselves.

7. Faith in a technological fix:  There are also people who assume some technological fix will solve the problem. However, there are no technological solutions under development, which can be perfected and implemented rapidly enough to avoid runaway climate change. Getting off fossil fuels is the only solution.

 

8. Our schools have failed: Our education system does an abysmal job addressing environmental education. Part of the problem, however, is an absence of pressure from parents to make it a priority. Most schools won’t even let the kids play outside anymore when there’s the least issue with the weather. Add to this the inordinate amount of time children spend in front of screens along with their over-scheduled lives, and it’s little wonder that the natural world has become a foreign entity. Students therefore grow up with the illusion that modern society is only tangentially dependent on nature and a stable climate.

9. The internet: Social media has made it possible – almost to the point of an addiction – to connect daily with like-minded people who reinforce our perceptions and worldviews. You can simply “unfriend” or no longer follow people you don’t agree with. This happens to me all the time on Twitter when I tweet about climate change. The internet is also chocked full of pseudo-science and right wing websites that deny climate change in the first place. Our lack of critical thinking skills and science literacy makes many of these sites appear legitimate.

10. Limited options: The number of ways an individual can act, either personally or publicly, seems – on the surface at least – to be limited. This results in a perceived lack of control. “What can I as one person do? Even if I do everything I can, it won’t make a difference.” There is lack of opportunities for civic engagement – rallies, for example, are not everyone’s cup of tea. There is also the attitude that once politicians are elected, they aren’t going to change their mind no matter what public pressure is brought to bear. Tragically, Doug Ford is proving that perception right now. Individual action can also seem meaningless, since we have reached a point where only a collective, political response will make a difference.

11. Culture and religion: Many Canadians grew up in a country that didn’t have the luxury of worrying about environmental issues because of poverty and the huge challenge of simply surviving from day-to-day. For these people, worrying about climate change might still seem like a luxury. Less understandable, however, is the attitude among some Evangelical Christians. According to a 2014 survey from Forum research, climate change denial is higher in this group than any other sector of the Canadian population.

12. Young people: Numerous surveys have shown that young people care deeply about climate change and are better informed than most of the population. However, they also suffer from higher levels of anxiety than any previous generation – and, for good reason. They deal with job insecurity and fear for the future on multiple levels, environmental devastation being one of them. It’s therefore understandable that some believe that the generation who created this mess – Baby Boomers like myself – ought to be held accountable and take the lion’s share of responsibility. Many teenagers and millennials also see climate issues as intimately bound up with issues like poverty, civil rights and the exploitation of people and land.

13. The emotional impact: An increasing number of people suffer from an overwhelming sense of grief, mourning, anger and confusion caused by an acute awareness of environmental destruction. This anxiety and despair helps explain why some choose to avoid engaging with climate change at all. It’s simply too much. If such feelings go unacknowledged, however, they too can thwart action.

Despite this litany of impediments to action, exciting new approaches to breaking the logjam are on the horizon. These range from incorporating indigenous knowledge and values into education, to new strategies to bridge the political divide. Only through collective, political action can this problem be solved. To be continued.

 

 

Sep 142018
 

Low turnout at climate rallies highlights the huge disconnect between the evidence for catastrophic climate impacts and a sense of urgency for action

Last Saturday, with its sunny skies and cool temperatures, was a beautiful day for a rally. More than 150 people showed up for Peterborough’s “Rise for Climate” event to listen to speakers, enjoy poetry and join a New Orleans-style funeral march with a banner featuring Tahlequah, the orca, holding her dead calf above the water. The message was the extreme gravity of the climate crisis. This was one of more than 900 rallies held worldwide demanding more serious climate action from politicians.

Forcing political action is a numbers game. If there had been a couple of thousand people at the rally, politicians might react, but 150 can be written off as a special interest group. It was also clear that probably half of the participants were the same faces as at previous climate change rallies. Most, too, were 40 years of age or older. I couldn’t help but wonder why more and different people didn’t come, and why younger people were largely absent. Weren’t this summer’s record wildfires and heat waves enough to inspire people?

About 150 people turned out for the “Rise for Climate” rally last Saturday at Confederation Square. Organizers, however, were hoping for many more, especially if politicians are to pay attention. Photo by Clifford Skarstedt

Despite the science on human-made climate change being absolutely conclusive, there is still a huge disconnect between the evidence for catastrophic climate impacts and a sense of urgency for action. As Barak Obama said in 2015 ” No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.” Why don’t severe climate-related events and disturbances resonate more with people, given their huge financial, social and ecological impacts? Why doesn’t the evidence motivate governments, corporations and individuals to take immediate serious action? How could Ontarians elect a government that campaigned on getting rid of cap and trade and other mitigation measures without promising anything to replace them?

I do believe that most people care about climate change, but being concerned is not the same thing as taking action. The climate crisis is still near the bottom of people’s concerns when compared to other societal problems. This week and next, I will present some thoughts on this disconnect from reality.

The Five D’s

Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist, examined several hundred peer-reviewed social science studies and was able to isolate five main barriers that keep climate messages from engaging people. They are what he calls “the Five Ds”: Distance, Doom, Dissonance, Denial, and iDentity. I would highly recommend his Ted Talk, entitled “How to transform apocalypse fatigue into action on global warming”.

1. Distance – For many people, climate change is seen as something far away in space and time. When climate models talk of 2050 or 2100, it seems like eons from now. When we hear about the loss of Arctic sea ice or see polar bears on melting ice floes, it might be disturbing but we struggle to see any bearing on our day-to-day lives.

2. Doom: Climate change is usually framed as an impending disaster, so our brains want to avoid the topic altogether. As one observer said, “After 30 years, we’ve become numbed to collapse porn.” That being said, the jury is still out on how much fear serves as a motivator or demotivator for action. It appears to resonate with some people but not all. It all causes a great deal of grief, too. As my daughter, Julia, told me, “It makes me so sad to know that the polar bears in the books I read to my girls will probably be gone from the wild when they are adults.”

3. Dissonance: When we think about taking action on addressing climate change, there is an inherent conflict between what most of us do on a regular basis – drive, eat red meat, fly, lead a high consumption lifestyle – and what we know we should do – greatly reduce all of these behaviours. Consequently, dissonance sets in, which is felt as an inner discomfort. It makes many of us feel like hypocrites, myself included. To lessen the dissonance, our brains start coming up with justifications. “My neighbour has a much bigger car than me. What difference does it make if I’m the only one to change my diet? How can I visit friends and family or go on a winter vacation if I don’t fly?” This last excuse always creates feelings of guilt and hypocrisy whenever I fly.

4. Denial: For some, the uncomfortable feeling of dissonance makes them turn to denial and to say things like “the climate is always changing”. For others – maybe most of us – we simply avoid thinking or talking about the issue, largely because we feel powerless to make a difference. As my daughter said, “Bringing up climate change with friends and family is a conservation stopper. The room goes silent.” We therefore take refuge in leading a kind of “double-life”, both knowing the science but shutting it out.

5. iDentity:  For some, cultural and political identity override the facts. A conservative-minded voter might say, “I believe in lower taxes, minimal government involvement in my life, and the right to drive as big a car as I want.” Someone on the left might say, “Government should be more involved in solving society’s problems. I’m fine with paying higher taxes, and we should all be driving smaller cars.”

There is still a huge disconnect between the scientific evidence for catastrophic climate impacts and the public’s sense of urgency for action. Photo by Clifford Skarstedt

Other factors

Other factors, too, help explain our lack of engagement with climate change and point to the overwhelming size the problem. Many of these are strongly linked to the five D’s above and all are inter-related.

1.  Our brains – Maybe the biggest reason why humans struggle to come to grips with climate change lies in the very nature of our brains. Like the frog in the proverbial pot of boiling water, we have trouble reacting to slow motion phenomena like a gradually changing climate. This is sometimes called “shifting baseline syndrome”. For example, we quickly forget how much colder winters used to be and how countless species were so much more abundant.

We also deal poorly with future threats and to threats that are characterized by a degree of uncertainty. Although scientists are 100% certain that human-generated greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change, they usually cannot say with certainty when the worst impacts will occur. Ironically, these impacts seem to be happening earlier and with more intensity than originally predicted. To make matters worse, gratification for action now is in the future. We therefore struggle to address issues that don’t necessarily impact us today. It’s not even clear if our brains allow us to care deeply about the generations to follow.

2.  All seems fine – For the most part, life in 2018 seems normal. We enjoyed a warm, sunny summer, albeit with four times as many 30+ C days as usual; our economy – on the surface at least – appears healthy; stores are overflowing with food and consumer goods; we don’t see much blatant poverty; and human thriving across the planet is probably at an all time high. In many ways, we live in the best of times, so why go to rallies or spend time worrying about climate change action?

Although we live in the worst of times when it comes to the environment, the immediate, visible impacts of problems like climate change are subtle (e.g., new species, earlier springs, later falls) and often only apparent to people who are really paying attention such as naturalists or anyone tracking weather data. There’s an absence of perceived change. There are also long gaps between extreme events such as Peterborough’s flood of 2004. This allows us to downplay the urgency of tackling climate action. Not enough people have seen it impacting their lives or the activities they enjoy doing.

3. Day-to-day life: Many, if not most of us, struggle to meet the demands of everyday life. People have enough trouble simply making ends meet. Understandably, there is not much energy left to devote to the abstract future. Parents with small kids have little brain space and energy left for things outside of parenting. Many individuals are also dealing with mental health issues, poverty, social injustice and both job and personal insecurity. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that climate change seems too overwhelming and too abstract.

4. Optimism bias: People often overestimate the likelihood of positive events happening to them and underestimate the likelihood of negative events. In some ways, this is advantageous, because it reduces stress and anxiety about the future. The bias derives partly from a failure to learn from new undesirable information like climate change stories. It also makes it awkward to talk about climate change with family and friends for fear of accusations of being a worrywort or overly negative. It seems that climate change, like politics, religion and death has entered the domain of topics that are not discussed in polite conversation. If the topic does come up, it’s often dismissed by statements like “It won’t affect us personally, we’ll find a technological solution and really it will only be a problem for future generations.” Large numbers of people – in fact, many people I know – have developed unconscious cognitive strategies that allow them to remain optimistic despite evidence to the contrary. The problem, however, is that threats like climate change really must be considered with great urgency, and optimism bias can have significant negative consequences when it comes to discounting serious risk.

Next week, I’ll share more ideas on this theme, including distrust of experts, the impact of social media and the scant attention paid by traditional media to climate change. I would like to thank the many people who contributed their ideas for this article via Facebook. The response was extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 072018
 

Looking ahead to events in nature after another summer marked by climate change 

As it was in the summers of both 2016 and 2017, the biggest story of the past three months has been the weather chaos unleashed on planet Earth by climate change. Just in Canada, we saw the worst fire season ever in B.C. as well as 89 heat wave-related deaths in Quebec. In Peterborough, the last four months have all been well above the long-term monthly normals. July and August were a scorching 2.4 C and 3.3 C above the 1971-2000 averages. In fact, 75 of the past 104 months in Peterborough have been warmer than normal.

Since late June, Peterborough has registered 23 days above 30 C. When you compare this to the long-term average of only 6.3 days per summer, you get a sense of how exceptional this summer has been. However, according to the latest projections prepared for the City of Peterborough by ICLEI Canada, 23 days above 30 C will be the norm by the 2030s. In other words, summers just like this one where it’s often uncomfortable to do much of anything outside.

On July 3, Dr. Blair Feltmate of the University of Waterloo wrote in the Globe and Mail that suggesting that Canada’s recent heat wave and climate change are not linked “would be like arguing that no particular home run can be attributed to steroids when a baseball player on a hitting streak is caught doping”- an apt metaphor to use when explaining to friends and family how climate change and extreme weather events are linked.

On a more positive note, a heartening story this summer has been the abundance of monarch butterflies. For example, on August 30, I counted more than 80 monarchs migrating west along the shore of Lake Ontario – just in the space of 15 minutes. I have also had monarchs in my garden every day now for weeks. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, there is a good prospect that the overwintering population in Mexico will increase from 2.48 hectares last year to 5 hectares this coming winter.

Many people have also commented on the rich, backyard cricket chorus this summer. Most of the voices are courtesy of fall field crickets, ground crickets and both snowy and four-spotted tree crickets. If you haven’t yet taken in the performance, the music should continue for several more weeks.

Looking ahead to the fall, here is a list of events in nature that are typical of autumn in the Kawarthas – an autumn that once again is projected to be warmer than usual.

September

  • On September 8 at 1 pm, the Peterborough Alliance for Climate Action will be hosting a “Rise for Climate” rally at Confederation Park, across from City Hall. There will be a short parade, speakers and information booths. If you care about climate change – and your children’s and grandchildren’s future – please try to attend.
  • Fall songbird migration is now in full swing. Migrants such as warblers are often in mixed flocks with chickadees and can be coaxed in for close-up views by using “pishing”. To see a video I made on September 2 using this technique, go to http://bit.ly/2wKE2IH. The response I got was no less than spectacular.
  • Spectacular swarms of flying ants are a common September phenomenon. Some are females – the potential future queens – but the majority are males. A given ant species will swarm and mate on the same day over huge areas, sometimes covering hundreds of kilometres. The males soon die, and the mated females disperse to establish a new colony.
  • On the evening of September 12, the young waxing crescent moon will appear about “one fist” above Venus in the southwestern sky. A great photo opportunity!
  • Although their reproductive purpose is for another season, gray treefrogs and spring peepers sometimes call from woodland trees in late summer and fall. They are most vocal on warm, humid days like this past Labour Day Weekend.
  • If we continue to get rain, this should be a good fall for mushrooms. In fields, watch for giant puffballs, which look like an errant soccer ball or a loaf of white bread. This species is edible when young. If you step on an old one, dust-like brown spores will “puff” out.
  • Kawartha Land Trust’s Stony Lake Trails are a one of my favourite destinations for mushroom-viewing. Details at http://bit.ly/2h3nYJg
  • Peterborough Field Naturalists hold their Sunday Morning Wildlife Walks each Sunday in September and October. Meet at the Riverview Park and Zoo parking lot at 8 am and bring binoculars. Indoor meetings take place on the second Wednesday of each month (7:30 pm) at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre at 2505 Pioneer Road. On September 12, Scott Blair will speak on “Brook Trout in Harper and Byersville Creek… A Story of Survival”. For more information, go to peterboroughnature.org
  • As the goldenrods begin to fade, asters take centre stage. The white flowers of heath, panicled and calico asters, along with the purple and mauve blossoms of New England, purple-stemmed and heart-leaved asters provide much of the show. Visit http://bit.ly/2fhW4sN (Ontario Wildflowers) for tips on identifying these beautiful but under appreciated plants.
  • Don’t miss the spectacular Harvest Moon, which occurs this year on September 24, rising at 7:21 pm. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the fall equinox (September 22). For several nights before and after this date, the moon rises at almost the same time. This allowed farmers to work into the evening under bright moonlight. Moonrise times for Peterborough can be found at http://bit.ly/2M1QOHr
  • Cuddly brown and black woolly bear caterpillars are a common fall sight as they look for a sheltered location to overwinter. Watch also for yellow bear and American dagger moth caterpillars, which are similar in size and also have a hairy appearance.

October

  • Fall colours in the Kawarthas usually peak early in the month. As long as September is not too hot and dry, the sugar maples will provide most of the colour. County Roads 620 and 504 around Chandos Lake east of Apsley makes for a great colour drive.
  • Sparrow migration takes centre stage this month, making October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. Scatter millet or finch mix on the ground to attract dark-eyed juncos and both white-throated and white-crowned sparrows.
  • Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Ecology Park on Ashburnham Drive has a wide selection of native species.
  • Salamander hunting is a fun fall activity for the entire family. The red-backed, which is almost worm-like in appearance, is usually the most common. Look carefully under flat rocks, old boards, and logs in damp wooded areas and around cottages.
  • Flocks of “giant” Canada geese (the subspecies that nests in the Kawarthas), rIng-billed gulls, red-winged blackbirds, American crows, and American robins are widespread.
  • A tide of yellow spreads across the landscape in mid- through late October. The colour is supplied courtesy of trembling and bigtooth aspens, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch and, at month’s end, tamarack.
  • As ducks move southward, consider a visit to the Lakefield sewage lagoon. It is located on the south side of County Road 33, just south of Lakefield. Be careful to avoid blocking the gate when you park. Goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup and mergansers are often present in large numbers. If you have a spotting scope, be sure to take it along. The sewage lagoon is one of the best birding locations in the Kawarthas.
  • The first northern finches usually start turning up in late October. To learn which species to expect this fall and winter, Google “winter finch forecast 2018-2019”. The forecast, compiled by Ron Pittaway, is usually available online by early October.
  • On October 24, the Peterborough Horticultural Society will present a talk on bees featuring Joe & Hazel Cook of Blossom Hill Nursery. The meeting, which is open to all, takes place at the Peterborough Lions Centre at 347 Burnham Street starting at 7 pm.

November

  • Oaks, tamaracks and silver maples are about the only native deciduous trees that still retain foliage in early November. The brownish-orange to burgundy leaves of red oaks stand out with particular prominence. At a glance, you can see just how common oaks are in many areas of the Kawarthas.
  • We return to Standard Time on Sunday, November 4, and turn our clocks back one hour. Sunrise on the 4th is at 6:54 am and sunset at 4:58 pm for a total of only 10 hours and 4 minutes of daylight. Compare this to the 15 1/2 hours we enjoyed back in June!
  • The red berries of wetland species like winterberry holly and high-bush cranberry provide some much needed November colour.
  • Most of our loons and robins head south this month. However, small numbers of robins regularly overwinter in the Kawarthas.
  • Ball-like swellings known as galls are easy to see on the stems of goldenrods. If you open the gall with a knife, you will find the small, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly inside. In the spring, it will emerge as an adult fly.
  • Damp, decomposing leaves on the forest floor scent the November air.

I would like to thank Tim Dyson, Annamarie Beckel, Jo Hayward-Haines and Gordon Harrison for having done such an admirable job filling in for me this summer. We are fortunate in the Kawarthas to have so many people with extensive knowledge of nature and the importance of the natural world in our lives.

 

Jun 292018
 

A preview of summer nature events with a nod to climate change

Now that summer has officially arrived, I want to look ahead to some of the events in nature that we can expect over the next three months. As a result of climate change, however, the actual timing of events is becoming less predictable. This was especially true last fall when unprecedented warmth and drought delayed and weakened the intensity of the fall colours.

It was exactly 30 years ago that NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen appeared before Congress, where he predicted how human-made emissions would impact the climate. As it turned out, the predictions he made in 1988 were almost entirely on target. As emissions have soared, the planet has warmed relentlessly; every year of this century has been hotter than 1988. This past May was the warmest on record in the U.S. As he predicted, the ocean is rising at an accelerating pace, the great ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are melting, coastal flooding is rapidly increasing, and the Arctic Ocean ice cap has shrunk drastically. Despite all of this, conservative politicians across Canada want to get rid of carbon taxes and undo the meagre progress the country has made in addressing climate change. Let’s not forget that on a per capita basis, Canada is the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

This past spring, we had several reminders of the impact climate change is having on nature in the Kawarthas. On May 4, Peterborough was hit by a major windstorm with gusts up to 120 km/hr. This was the worst storm to hit the city since the ice storm of April 2013. Numerous trees were blown down, including a tall spruce on Maple Crescent that literally snapped in half. Dozens of other spruce were uprooted across the city. At the corner of Monaghan and Lansdowne, nearly half of a huge iconic oak tree came down, as well. The number of trees that have been destroyed by ice and wind in Peterborough and the Kawarthas in the past couple of decades is a tragedy.

The demise of many ornamental, non-native  cedars in the Kawarthas also has a probable link to climate change. Wild temperature fluctuations this winter -especially in February with four days above 11 C – caused freeze-thaw cycles that put stress on the trees, causing them to  turn brown and, in some cases, die.

The following events in nature are typical of summer in the Kawarthas.

Late June

  • Turtles can still be seen along roadsides and rail-trails laying their eggs. Remember to slow down in turtle-crossing zones.
  • Monarch butterflies have returned – the “grandchildren” of those that flew to Mexico last fall. Local Monarch numbers appear encouraging so far this year. Make sure your garden has a selection of different plants blooming from spring through fall to provide pollen and nectar to bees and butterflies. It’s also important to have some milkweed on which Monarchs can lay their eggs. Both Swamp (A. incarnata) and Butterfly (A. tuberosa) Milkweed are the best choices for small gardens.

Monarch Butterfly – Terry Carpenter

Snapping Turtle digging nest on roadside (Danielle Tassie )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

July

  • Common Milkweed is in flower and its rich, honey-sweet perfume fills the early summer air. The scent serves to attract insects whose feet will inadvertently pick up the flowers’ sticky pollinia – small packets containing pollen – and transfer them to another plant.
  • A huge number of other plants are blooming, as well. In wetland habitats, watch for Common Elderberry, Swamp Milkweed, Joe-Pye Weed, Yellow Pond Lily and Fragrant White Water Lily. Along roadsides and in meadows, common species include Bird’s-foot Trefoil (often on lawns), Ox-eye Daisy, Yarrow, Viper’s Bugloss, Black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Bergamot, Purple-flowering Raspberry and Orange Hawkweed.

Common Milkweed

Joe-Pye Weed – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • July is a good time to learn the common, non-native invasive plants. Some of the most noticeable roadside denizens are Wild Parsnip, Dog-strangling Vine and Phragmites (Common Reed). For more information, contact the Ontario Invasive Plant Council at ontarioinvasiveplants.ca.
  • July is infamous for deer, horse and stable flies, which belong to the Tabanidae family. Deer flies have black-patterned wings, iridescent eyes and tend to fly around your head. Horse flies are larger, grey in colour, and have huge eyes. They prefer to bite lower on the body. Stable flies are house fly-size and have four dark stripes on the thorax. They often attack the ankles and are very difficult to swat. Stable flies lay their eggs on rotting vegetation along shorelines and often show up at cottage docks.
  • It is hard to go anywhere near water in July and not notice dragonflies and damselflies. Many turn up in suburban gardens. To tell them apart, remember that dragonflies have thick bodies, are strong fliers, and their wings are open at rest. Damselflies are usually much smaller, have thin bodies, are weak fliers, and their wings are closed or only partially spread at rest. Some of the most frequently seen damselflies are powder-blue in colour, hence the common name of “bluets.” As for dragonflies, some common species include the Dot-tailed Whiteface, Common Whitetail, Four-spotted Skimmer and Chalk-fronted Skimmer. Go to odonatacentral.org/ for pictures of all Ontario dragonflies and damselflies. Click on “checklists” and then type “Ontario” in the search box.
  • By mid-July, the buzzy, electric song of the Dog-day Cicada fills the void created by the decrease in bird song.
  • Watch for mushrooms such as White Pine Boletes and Fly Agarics. Summer – not fall – usually produces the greatest variety of fungi.
  • Quiet country roads with lots of thick cover can be good for summer birding. If you hear contact calls, stop and pish. Warblers such as American Redstarts often fly in quite close.

August

  • Listen for the high-pitched “lisping” calls of Cedar Waxwings and the “po-ta-to-chip” flight call of the American Goldfinch. Watch for waxwings on the branches of dead trees along the River Road between Trent University and Lakefield.

Cedar Waxwings – Wikimedia

Immature meadowhawk dragonfly – Margo Hughes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Late July through September offers some of the best shorebird watching of the year. The Nonquon Sewage Lagoon, located just north of Port Perry, is the destination of choice. A ten-dollar permit is necessary, however. It can be purchased at Durham Region Transfer Site at 1623 Reach Road, Port Perry. Call 905-985-7346 ext. 112 for more information.
  • A large percentage of the insect music we here this month comes courtesy of crickets and katydids. For example, the soft, rhythmic “treet…treet…treet” of the Snowy Tree Cricket sounds like a gentle-voiced spring peeper. Its beautiful rhythmic pulsations actually provide a good estimate of air temperature. Watch and listen at bit.ly/18nGrJ3
  • By mid-August, Ragweed is in full bloom and its pollen has hay fever sufferers cursing with every sneeze. Goldenrod, which relies on insects to spread its sticky, heavy pollen, is not the culprit. The small, green flowers of the Ragweed, however, rely strictly on the wind to spread the ultra light, spike-covered pollen grains. The higher CO2 levels associated with climate change are greatly increasing pollen production. It is also causing Poison Ivy to thrive.
  • Small dragonflies known as meadowhawks abound. Mature males are red, while females and immature males are yellowish.
  • Cottagers sometimes find large, mysterious, jelly-like “blobs” attached to the dock or aquatic plants. They are formed by colonies of Bryozoa, a freshwater invertebrate. Looking somewhat like an egg mass, the clumps are clear, dense, and have distinct, repetitive patterns and markings on the outside. Bryozoa are like a freshwater coral in that the mass they form is actually a colony of thousands of zooids – roughly analogous to polyps in corals. Each tiny zooid has whorls of ciliated feeding tentacles that sway back in forth to catch plankton in the water.
  • Bird migration is in full swing by mid- to late August, with numerous warblers, vireos, flycatchers and Common Nighthawks moving through. One of the best places to see nighthawks is Back Dam Park near Warsaw. Migration peaks around August 20. Go in the evening and watch the sky for loose flocks.
  • Goldenrods reach peak bloom at month’s end and become the dominate flowers of roadsides and fields. These plants are veritable insect magnets, drawing in an amazing variety of species with their offerings of pollen and nectar.

  September

  • Monarch butterfly numbers are at their highest. Monarchs congregate at peninsulas on the Great Lakes such as Presqu’ile Provincial Park, a jumping off point for their migration across Lake Ontario. Don’t miss the Monarch tagging demonstration at Presqu’ile on the afternoon of September 1 and 2. Monarch expert Don Davis will be on hand to answer questions and even let your kids release a tagged butterfly. Go to friendsofpresquile.on.ca for more information.

Tagged Monarch – Drew Monkman

A Monarch butterfly drinks nectar from a New England Aster – Tim Dyson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Chinook and Coho Salmon leave Lake Ontario to spawn in tributaries of the Ganaraska River. Huge salmon can be seen jumping up the fish ladder at Corbett’s Dam on Cavan Street in Port Hope.
  • By late September, asters reign supreme. Their purples, mauves, and whites light up fields and roadsides and bring the year’s wildflower parade to a close. The most common species include New England, Heath, Panicled and Heart-leaved Asters. They make a great addition to any pollinator garden.
  • Be sure to put your bird feeders up this month. If you scatter millet or finch mix on the ground, you should be able to attract White-throated Sparrows which migrate south in late September.
  • Most years, Virginia Creeper vine, Poison Ivy, Chokecherry and Staghorn Sumac reach their colour peak at about the fall equinox, which occurs this year on September 22.

 

 

Jun 262018
 

by Amy Harder, in AXIOS – June 25, 2018

 

Climate change is intangible and complicated, which makes it an easy target for our era of fake news.

Why it matters: Addressing climate change, whether through government or private action, requires acknowledging a problem exists. Misinformation about the science, including inaccurate statements and articles, makes that harder. Concern about climate change has dropped over the past year among Republicans and independents, according to Gallup polling released in March.

Fake news and inaccurate climate information have been around for a long time, long before Donald Trump became president. But Trump’s election has enabled misinformation to spread by elevating leaders in politics and elsewhere who don’t acknowledge the scientific consensus on climate change.

We’ve seen this play out across different forums: media articles, congressional hearings and public speeches.

Republican lawmakers said at a hearing in May that rocks tumbling into the ocean were causing sea levels to rise, not warmer temperatures fueled by human activity.
The Wall Street Journal has run opinion pieces that question mainstream climate science consensus. Some raise important points, but others are deeply inaccurate, such as this one in May that said sea level is rising but not because of climate change.
Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and others in the administration have repeatedly raised doubts that humans have an impact on climate change.
When Trump said his inauguration crowd size was the largest ever, it was easy to show a photo disproving his false claim. When Trump blamed Democrats for last week’s immigration crisis, it was relatively easy to show how his own policies led directly to family separations.

With climate change, there’s nothing simple about the subject — so it’s harder to cut through the barrage of misinformation.

I’ve been covering this issue for nearly a decade, and I still haven’t learned the science enough to know quickly and confidently the science behind why a certain piece of information — such as that sea level rise op-ed in the Journal — is wrong, even when I know it doesn’t sound right. I seek out scientists and other reputable experts to help distill it.

“There isn’t necessarily a good intuitive comparison like ‘the crowd in this photo looks a lot bigger than the crowd in this one.’ Even if you are looking at lines on a chart, you are comparing abstractions of real phenomena like temperature change.”
— Joseph Majkut, climate science expert at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank
Climate change isn’t simple because it’s inherently uncertain, just like all science — and it’s best to acknowledge that uncertainty. Some media articles, environmental activists and progressive politicians often over-simplify, downplay or dismiss altogether any uncertainty. That fuels the polarization on this topic.

The most important thing to know is that the overwhelming majority of scientists say human activity is driving Earth’s temperature up, according to Ed Maibach, an expert on climate-change communication at George Mason University.

Yet, just 15% of the public understands that more than 90% of scientists have reached that conclusion, according to a survey this spring by George Mason and Yale University. Nearly half underestimates the scientific consensus.

“It takes a lot of effort to dive in and learn the details about something, and we will do that when we are highly motivated to learn something,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, Yale University professor who studies public perceptions of climate. “Most people aren’t willing to devote an enormous amount of brain energy to thinking about climate change.”

Changing this trend takes time and new leadership — which isn’t happening in big enough numbers to shift public debate.

Climate Feedback is a voluntary initiative of well-known and respected scientists reviewing climate change articles for accuracy, whose first work came in 2015.

Among the articles reviewed: The Wall Street Journal op-ed on rising sea levels, which was described as “grossly” misleading to readers; and, on the other side, a highly cited New York Magazine article that the reviewing scientists said exaggerated how bad climate change could get.
The number of people who read the reviews of those articles are undoubtedly a fraction compared to those who read the original pieces.
People take cues from leaders, such as The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Trump administration officials.

Until or unless people in those positions either leave or change opinions, it could be difficult to change the masses.
Earlier this month, we saw one leadership change: New NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who doubted the scientific consensus on climate change when he was in Congress, said reviewing the science convinced him to change positions.
Bridenstine’s views are important from a substantive perspective — NASA is one of the top agencies that monitors the planet’s climate. But he’s not well known enough to change a lot of people’s minds.
One non-science thing that could change the debate, in the view of a new bipartisan group, is convincing people to acknowledge the problem without getting stuck debating how serious it is.

Last week, a political group funded by energy companies and supported by a bipartisan pair of former congressional leaders launched a campaign to push for a carbon tax.

One of those leaders lobbying in support, former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, said he remains skeptical of what he says are some scientists’ political motives — but that won’t be his focus.

“I’m not going to debate liberals and Democrats about the icebergs melting. I’m not going to argue how imminent a threat this is. I’m just going to say: ‘It is a problem. This is one way to address it. Let’s talk about it.’ ”
— Former Sen. Trent Lott (R.-Miss.)

May 252018
 

I’ve just returned from my annual birding trip to Point Pelee and Rondeau parks in southwestern Ontario. And, yes, the birds of spring were present in all their diversity and beauty. Every year, however, I notice something deeply unsettling: the reduction in abundance. Take the Wood Thrush, for example. Instead of seeing and hearing dozens or even hundreds of individuals, we maybe counted ten.

Wood Thrush – Greg Piasetzki

The park experience is changing in other ways, too. Each year, more and more trees are being blown over by severe windstorms. This spring, near-record rainfall also caused so much flooding at Rondeau that the campground was closed and rubber boots were a necessity to access several of the park trails.

The upcoming provincial election only adds to my anxiety level when it comes to issues such as these. The front-runner, Doug Ford, is clearly unconvinced – or simply doesn’t care – that a conservation or climate change problem even exists. He is promising to get rid of Ontario’s cap and trade climate tax. He was also prepared to open up part of Ontario’s Greenbelt to housing development, until he reversed his position for largely unknown reasons. Despite the reversal, this speaks volumes of where his heart lies – and it’s not with land conservation or enlightened urban planning.

Ford is also promising to reduce government spending to find billions of dollars in savings. This will probably mean drastic budget reductions to government departments as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests and the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. We can also expect rollbacks to the Liberal’s urban planning legislation – the most progressive in North America and a key tool against urban sprawl. I’m sure that progressive urban planners across the province are shaking in their boots about what may be coming. As for Peterborough, a bridge over Jackson Park will probably be much more likely.

Doug Ford in Thunder Bay in May 2018 – Wikimedia

The Great Thinning

British environmental writer Michael McCarthy describes the reduction in wildlife numbers such as those I’ve alluded to as “The Great Thinning”. Thinning doesn’t grab headlines or spur campaigns the way that extinction does. It inhabits a space below the radar, especially to those who aren’t really paying attention. Something similar could be said about climate change. Unless people are flooded out of their homes or forced to evacuate because of forest fires or sea level rise, a changing climate remains an abstraction. The mountains of science-based data about how dire things are becoming don’t resonate with those not directly affected. Polls still show that climate change remains far down the list of concerns for most Canadians.

As a naturalist living in the 21st century, everything that means the most to me – beyond the well-being of family and friends – is under siege. I live in a world of loss – a thinning in abundance of everything from bees and butterflies to reptiles, mammals and birds. Where diverse, abundant nature was once at our doorstep, most Ontarians now have to make a concerted effort to see many species and experience healthy, rich habitats.

When I lived on Westbrook Drive in the 1980s, Barn Swallows nested each spring in our carport; the calls of Common Nighthawks resonated over downtown Peterborough on summer nights; large swarms of bats fed over the pagoda pond in Jackson Park; and Monarchs were so common that we hardly noticed them. Even a car drive on a summer night spoke volumes of species abundance. I clearly remember how the windshield and headlights would become so splattered with moths and other flying insects that I sometimes had to stop to wipe them clean before carrying on.

The predictability of climate, too, was taken for granted. Snow usually arrived in early December and stayed until mid-March. The odd January thaw would occur, but it was still possible to have a backyard rink for most of the winter. Extreme heat, rain and wind events occurred on occasion but were far less common.

Peterborough is already feeling the effects of climate change such as the flood of 2004 – Janine Jones photo

Fast-forward three decades. With luck, you might find a barn where swallows still nest; you sometimes see nighthawks during their fall migration; if you know exactly where to go, there are still a few small colonies of martins on Rice Lake; I still hear of the occasional single bat turning up in older homes; and seeing one or two Monarchs in the garden has become an event of great excitement, rather than the norm. As for night-flying summer insects, our windshields are eerily clean.

When it comes to climate and weather, we no longer know what to expect, other than it will be an extreme of some sort. Over the past 15 years, Peterborough has experienced an epic flood, numerous severe wind and freezing rain events with a huge loss of trees and record-cold winter months interspersed with record-warm winter months. More and more, our weather is delivered in extremes. All of this is playing out against a background of three months out of four being warmer than the 1971-2000 average.

Sad and frustrated

In light of all these changes, the feelings I experience most are sadness and frustration. Sadness that my granddaughters who love nature will probably never experience its richness and diversity the way I have, and frustration that I can’t even convince many close friends that aggressive action on climate change has to be a bare minimum for anyone seeking public office. I find it appalling that politicians like Doug Ford can get away with putting short-term political gain ahead of the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. Just as Ontario is making progress on fighting climate change, Ford is promising to undo it all by getting rid of the cap and trade agreement with Quebec and California. That a political party could get itself elected in 2018 on a program that includes ditching a price on carbon is horrifying. It’s almost like someone saying, “Vote for us and we’ll roll back the laws on same sex marriage, restrictions on smoking in public places and equal pay for work of equal value”.

Everywhere we look, climate change predictions are being confirmed. If you believe in science – humankind’s best way of discovering what’s true – you have to believe that forecasts for the coming years will prove true, as well. Yes, it’s difficult to think beyond the present moment and the many worries and stresses of everyday life. However, we can’t put our heads in the sand. Parents who are outraged when their child is exposed to second-hand smoke or unsafe playground equipment remain somehow paralyzed when it comes to the infinitesimally  greater threat represented by climate change.

Our very civilization depends on a stable, predictable climate, but we fail to grasp the enormity of the climate calamity at our doorstep. In most areas of our lives, the majority of human beings are kind, moral people. However, where is the morality of ignoring what science is telling us? Do we really think we’re better informed than the scientists are? Where is the morality in letting a politician like Doug Ford get away with cancelling a carbon tax and muse about opening protected land to housing development? Ford is making us look like a bunch of fools.

We have no true sense that the Earth is our larger body that we breathe, drink, eat and turn to for inspiration and spiritual well-being. We still haven’t learned to look at nature – be it wildlife or climatic systems – as part of ourselves, as something in which we are deeply embedded. It remains something “out there” and apart. If we truly understood the importance of nature – for our spirits, our souls and our physical and emotional well-being – the on-going destruction of species, habitats and climate systems would never be tolerated. At the very least, we wouldn’t let politicians get away with campaigning on policies that will only lead to greater destruction.

Hope

I still hope that there might be “a great turning” — a transition from a society shaped primarily by unbridled economic growth and the savaging of the natural world to a more life-sustaining ethic. And, to be fair, progress is being made. We see it in ways of generating energy, producing food, learning from the wisdom of indigenous people and even new metrics for measuring prosperity, happiness and wealth. I think our love and awareness of nature is growing, too. In Peterborough, this is apparent in things as simple as the number of “I brake for turtles” bumper stickers on cars and the many people who now garden with pollinators in mind. Respect for smaller-scale, more conservation-minded agriculture can also be seen in the huge public support for locally-produced food.

Now is not the time to turn our back on this progress. Climate change and conservation are not problems like the others. We are in a race against the clock. If greenhouse gas emissions are not brought down to almost zero in the next couple of decades, the very worst impacts of climate change are a near certainty. As for conservation, once species and habitats have disappeared, they are gone forever.

On June 7, vote for a party that is honest about the climate threats we face, supports a tax on carbon and believes in conservation and progressive urban planning.

 

Jan 042018
 

2017 saw dire environmental stories grab centre stage but all was not doom and gloom

As we shiver into 2018, I would like to take a moment to look back at 2017 and revisit some of the top environmental and climate change stories. The past 12 months represent a stark cautionary tale that our climate is changing faster and with more catastrophic intensity than ever before. Scientists also reminded us this year that it is 100 percent human-caused. In fact, if it weren’t for Homo sapiens, the planet would be cooling.

To anyone paying attention, these changes are also apparent here in the Kawarthas where extremes in temperature and other weather events have become the norm. We might not know what the weather is going to bring, but we can be increasingly sure that it will be an extreme of some sort – and that it will last for much longer than ever before.

A year of extremes

1. Stronger storms: This was a savage year for hurricanes in the U.S. Three ferocious storms (Harvey, Irma and Maria) pummeled Florida, the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico, causing deaths and billions of dollars of destruction. A growing scientific consensus is that climate change is increasing the rainfall, wind speeds and storm surges associated with hurricanes. Many experts believe that the intensity and frequency of these events will only increase.

2. Flooding:  Ottawa and Montreal had their wettest spring on record with over 400 mm of rain falling. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, more than 5,000 residences were flooded. This resulted in 15,750 claims and $223 million in property damages. In April and May, Peterborough was drenched with 299 mm of rain, which was almost exactly double the 1981-2000 normal of 150 mm. In mid-May, water levels in Lake Ontario were their highest in 157 years.

On August 28, Windsor received 222 mm of rain in less than 48 hours. Insurance payouts totaled $154 million, which was the most expensive single-storm loss across Canada in 2017. This occurred less than a year after a record $153 million flood hit Windsor and Essex County in 2016.

Peterborough Flood 2004 – Janine Jones photo

3. Wildfires: British Columbia saw its longest and most destructive wildfire season ever. The BC Wildfire Service reported 1,265 fires that charred 1.2 million hectares of timber, bush and grassland. This represents an area twice the size of Prince Edward Island. It shattered the previous record for burned land by 30%. Fighting these fires cost the province more than half a billion dollars, while insured property losses approached $130 million. In California, too, the wildfire season was the most destructive in recorded history. This included the 20 most destructive fires ever seen in semi-urban areas. With climate change fueling more and bigger blazes, the Western wildfire season in the U.S. is now 105 days longer than it was 45 years ago.

4. Record heat: Planet-wide, 2017 will likely go down as the second-warmest year on record. What is most astounding is that this occurred in the absence of an El Niño, which drives up global temperatures. The hottest year ever was 2016, which broke the record set in 2015. The ten hottest years have all occurred since 1998. In eastern Canada, we saw “summer in September”. From September 22 to 27, over a thousand heat records fell. The mean monthly temperature in Peterborough was 2.6 C warmer than the 1971-2000 normal, while October temperatures soared an amazing 3.2 C above normal. To put this into context, the goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit planet-wide warming to well below 2 C.

5. Record cold: This December and January have been unbelievably frigid – once again thanks to the polar vortex. The mean December temperature in Peterborough came in at 3.2 C below normal – in other words, as much colder as October was warmer. It’s not just the severity of the cold, however; it’s also the duration. Outbreaks of cold weather almost never last this long. Bone-chilling Arctic air is projected to be with us through at least January 10.

So, doesn’t the cold mean that global warming is nothing to be concerned about – maybe even desirable? It’s important to remember that this is a short-term weather event and not a long-term climate trend. In fact, warmer-than-average air is dominating the rest of the planet right now.

The polar vortex is influenced by the temperature difference between the Arctic and more temperate regions to the south. In recent years, the Arctic has been warming at twice the global rate as sea ice melts. Many scientists now believe that the narrowing of the temperature difference between the Arctic and more southerly regions has caused the jet stream to weaken and become more wave-like. This weakening appears to have allowed Arctic air masses to spill southward and remain in place longer. In the past, a robust jet stream usually impeded Arctic air masses from spilling southward for more than a few days.

6. Donald Trump: From his announcement to exit from the Paris climate accord to appointing climate change deniers like Scott Pruitt to key environmental posts, the U.S. president did his best in 2017 to undo any environmental progress President Obama had made. Protected land was an easy target as he sought to weaken bans on industrial activity. He appears committed to gutting Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Dire warning

In November, more 15,000 scientists from 184 countries issued a warning that the ongoing destruction of the Earth’s ecosystems is putting the very future of humankind at severe risk and leading to catastrophic biodiversity loss. It stated that humankind must take immediate action to reverse the effects of climate change, deforestation, unsustainable agriculture (especially ruminants for meat consumption) and species extinction. The alert came on the 25th anniversary of a similar warning in 1992. This time, however, 10 times as many scientists were signatories. The warning states that we have unleashed a mass extinction event – the sixth in the past 540 million years. The scientists provided a number of broad solutions: They include moving away as quickly as possible from fossil fuels; using energy, water, food and other materials much more efficiently; promoting a diet of mostly plant-based foods; reducing and eventually eliminating poverty; ensuring sexual equality and guaranteeing women control over their own reproductive decisions. Not surprisingly, the warning generated very little reaction.

Barn Swallows have seen their population crash by at least 80% in the last two decades – Karl Egressy

According to another major study published in July, the extinction crisis is far worse than most people think. Of the 177 mammals for which the researchers had detailed data, over 40 percent have lost more than 80 percent of their ranges. In terms of individual animals, wildlife populations have decreased by 50% in just the past four decades. “The massive loss of populations and species reflects our lack of empathy to all the wild species that have been our companions since our origins,” says lead author, Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Good news

It was not all doom and gloom, however. There were some good news stories.

1. Canada, along with four other Arctic coastal countries, signed a 16-year moratorium on commercial fishing in an area covering 2.8 million kilometres of the central Arctic Ocean. This is roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The treaty is seen as a historic victory for Arctic conservation.

2. Thanks to a DDT phase-out and reintroduction programs, the peregrine falcon has been assessed as no longer at risk by the Committee on the Status on Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Peregrines at Anstruther Lake nest – July 19, 2014 – photo by Drew Monkman

3. The ozone hole this year was the smallest since 1988, thanks to a decades-long international effort to ban ozone-depleting chemicals.

4. Monarch butterfly numbers bounced back this summer, following several years of severe declines. Tim Dyson, who lives near Warsaw, tallied no fewer than 532 monarchs in 2017, which was more than double his previous high. It is expected that the overwintering population in Mexico will increase from the 2.91 hectares of last year to 4 hectares or better this winter.

5. The evidence of a strong link between health and time spent in nature received increased attention this year – even by groups like the World Economic Forum. Human health is quickly becoming an important driver for conservation.

6. Local environmental organizations continued to do excellent work this year. The number of such groups is truly astounding for a community our size. They include Peterborough Pollinators, Peterborough Field Naturalists, Peterborough Greenspace Coalition, Peterborough GreenUp, Sustainable Peterborough, Camp Kawartha, Otonabee Conservation, Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, The Land Between Conservation Organization, Transition Town, Kawartha Land Trust, For Our Grandchildren, Leap Manifesto Group, Natural Heritage Information Centre and many more. UNESCO also recognized Peterborough-Kawarthas-Haliburton as a Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development. No small accomplishment!

Peterborough Pollinators garden on Medical Drive – photo by Drew Monkman

Values

Like me, you have probably been asking yourself for years why humans allow climate change and other forms of environmental degradation to continue unabated. Research provides a clear but disconcerting answer: for most people, the environment is simply not a priority relative to other issues in their lives. This is true even in developed, prosperous countries like Canada. We are all caught up in a complicated web dominated by material culture and values such as perpetual economic growth and our separateness from nature – the very values that have allowed industrial capitalism to flourish. However, many social scientists would argue that a deliberate shift in what we value is unlikely. An optimist, I suppose, might contend that the huge change in attitudes vis-à-vis  the rights of women, homosexuals and minorities proves that profound value shifts are indeed possible. I just wish I was more convinced.

 

 

 

Oct 122017
 

Everything from climate change to invasive species are threatening our lakes, rivers and fish populations

Slowly but steadily, the lakes and rivers of the Kawarthas are changing. The abundance and variety of fish populations are undergoing a transformation that could make them unrecognizable in a few short decades. This week, I’d like to provide an overview of some of these trends.

Climate change

Climate change may be the single largest factor influencing the future of fish populations – not just in the Kawarthas, but across the planet. According to Climate Change Research Report CCRR-16, prepared by the Ministry of Natural Resources in 2010, most of the Kawarthas is expected to warm from an annual mean temperature of about 6.4 C (1971-2000) to approximately 7.7 C (2011- 2040), 9.2 C (2041-2070) and 11.4 C (2071-2100). Although annual precipitation is not expected to change significantly, extreme precipitation events will be more common as Windsor, Kingston and Hamilton learned this year. To put the change into context, in just 25 years the Kawarthas could have the same climate that Windsor does today. By the 2080s, it could feel like we’re living in present-day southern Pennsylvania.

Warmer temperatures and increased evaporation will lead to warmer lakes and rivers, lower water levels, altered stream flow patterns and decreased water quality. The structure of existing fish communities will also change, as the productive capacity for warmwater fish species (e.g. bass, muskellunge) is likely to increase, while coolwater fish species (e.g. walleye) will struggle to survive here. Changes to water temperature will likely alter the timing of fish migrations, as well as spawning and hatching times. These conditions will probably allow non-native fish like round gobies to thrive and out-compete native species for resources. There will likely be an increase in the types and abundance of other invasive species, too, such as zebra mussel, Eurasian water-milfoil, frog-bit and fanwort. Climate change will also compound the impacts of other stressors, including pollution, industrial development, dams and habitat loss. There’s a sobering article in the Globe and Mail this week (October 10) about how climate change is already having a multiplier affect by exacerbating human impacts – industrial activity, for example – on the Mackenzie River watershed.

Invasive species

Invasive species influence both the productive capacity of our lakes and the makeup of the fish community. Specific impacts are different for each invading species. Round gobies, for example, reduce fish diversity through competition with, and predation on, other fish species.

The spread of zebra mussels has increased water clarity as their feeding behaviour filters plankton from the water column. This, in turn, decreases the nutrients available to lower levels of the food chain, which reduces the overall productive capacity of a water body. The result is more favourable conditions for species like bass and less favourable conditions for walleye. These large-eyed fish evolved to live and hunt in more turbid water conditions. Therefore, when the water becomes clearer, walleye lose their competitive feeding advantage over other fish species.

Disease

Many fish diseases can also be considered within the context of invasive species. These include parasites, viruses and bacteria. For example, during the summers of 2007 and 2008, bacterial infections and Koi Herpesvirus (KHV) caused the deaths of tens of thousands of carp in the Trent-Severn Waterway. These were the first confirmed cases of KHV in Ontario. KHV disease is caused by a virus that affects only carp, goldfish and koi. Another disease, viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), had big impact on muskellunge several years ago.

Fishing pressure

Overfishing, too, is a serious threat to certain fish stocks. Although it’s hard to quantify, anecdotal reports of people flaunting fish regulations are widespread. Population growth in southern Ontario and the completion of Highway 407 to Highway 115 will also increase the pressure on fish stocks as anglers from the Greater Toronto Area and beyond will be able to travel to the Kawarthas more easily.

We may already be seeing a number of these threats combining to  reduce lake trout populations in the Haliburton area. There are now far fewer lake trout in most of the Haliburton lakes, and those trout that are caught are usually small. A number of factors appear to be in play: competition from thriving populations of warmwater species like rock bass and yellow perch; the arrival of northern pike into some of the lakes; increasingly warm water temperatures which, in summer, reduce the amount of deep water oxygen available to trout and, in the other seasons, disrupt reproduction; and greater summer and winter fishing pressure on many of the lakes.

Species at risk

The Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO) List is the official list of endangered, threatened, special concern and extirpated animals and plants in Ontario. The following fish are currently listed as species at risk in the Kawarthas and south to Lake Ontario.

1. Channel Darter (Threatened): A member of the perch family,  the channel darter only measures  three to seven centimetres in length. An isolated population still exists in the Trent River. They are threatened by soil washing into the river from nearby urban and agricultural areas and by invasive fish species.

2. American eel (Endangered):  These long, snake-like fish once supported a multi-million-dollar fishery in Ontario. They have historically been documented in the Trent River and as far inland as Rice Lake. Despite its name, there is no actual proof yet that eels existed in Eel’s Creek. American eels are threatened by dams and other in-water barriers, which prevent access to feeding and spawning areas.

3. River redhorse (Special Concern) The river redhorse is a thick-bodied sucker with a prominent snout and a reddish tail fin. They have been documented in the Trent River. Like eels, they are threatened by dams, which inhibit spawning migrations. Increased siltation and water turbidity from farming and urban development are also a threat.

4. Lake sturgeon (Threatened):  This long-lived species is the largest strictly freshwater fish in Canada. When European settlers arrived here, sturgeon occurred  throughout the Trent River system. They may also have been present in the Kawartha Lakes, although this has not yet been verified. In recent years, this species has only been found in the Lower Trent River, where a spawning population exists at Dam 1 in Trenton. A large dead sturgeon was found south of Glen Ross in 2010. Historically, over-fishing was the main cause of population decline. Now, habitat degradation and the presence of dams pose the greatest threats. Please report any sturgeon sightings to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

Fewer anglers  

The number of active anglers in Canada is decreasing. According to federal government recreational angling surveys, more than one in five Canadians fished for sport in 1975; by 2010 the number was about one in ten. This may be because over 80 percent of Canadians now live in cities and have fewer opportunities to get out fishing. The decrease in the number of kids who fish is especially acute, dropping from about 1.75 million in 1990 to less than 50,000 in 2010. As fewer people fish, there is less awareness of the depletion of fish stocks and less concern for the health of our lakes. As Alanna Mitchell writes in the current issue of “Cottage Life” magazine, “a whole fishing generation has gone missing.”

Conservation

Although many of the threats affecting fish populations demand collective action by governments at a global level – climate change and invasive species for example – there are things that individuals can do.

1. If you are an angler, throw back any large fish you catch. It’s simple: large fish are a lake or river’s brood stock and critical to self-sustaining fish populations.

2. If you own property, leave shoreline vegetation and woody debris like large logs in place. If necessary, restore native plants. Trees and shrubs that shade the water are a boon to fish stressed by warmer lakes. Refrain from mowing the lawn to the water’s edge.

3. Speak out. Right now, for example, brook trout in Peterborough’s Harper Creek are threatened by the casino development and the Harper Road realignment. Let your councillor know that everything possible must be done to protect this population.

4. Take your kids fishing. A new generation of anglers will assure a strong voice for conversation.

5. Learn more about the fascinating lives of the fish themselves. One way to do this is by taking your family fish-watching. Lock 19 in Peterborough is a great location to see large schools of spawning walleye in April, along with abundant white suckers. Go to the downstream base of the lock in the evening and shine a flashlight into the water. Watch for the bright eye-shine from the walleye’s large eyes.

I also recommend visiting Corbett’s dam in Port Hope to see rainbow trout in the spring and salmon in late summer. Another great way to see fish is to slowly paddle along shallow shorelines in June to look for bass or sunfish nests. The fish sweep out circular patches and then guard the nests once eggs have been laid. Often, these nests are visible from docks. You might even want to invest in an Aqua-Vu underwater camera to watch live underwater footage of fish from a boat or the water’s edge. You can also take photos and videos. The camera provides a fascinating up-close glimpse into the private lives of fish. Go to http://bit.ly/2xwNFIt for a video of the camera in action.

As much as anything, protection of fish populations requires a critical mass of people who spend time outside on our lakes and rivers – whether it’s through fishing, fish-watching, canoeing or other nature-based activities – and who value these amazing ecosystems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 222017
 

Myriad threats and declines evident in the Kawarthas, too

Living in a country as big and relatively unpopulated as Canada, it might come as a surprise that much of our wildlife is in serious decline. This was made abundantly clear last week when World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF) released its annual Living Planet Report.

WWF studied 3,689 population trends for 903 monitored vertebrate species (mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles) in Canada, for the period 1970 to 2014. Using this database, they developed a national Living Planet Index – similar to a stock market index – to reflect how Canada’s wildlife is faring. The findings surprised even WWF: Half of the monitored species (451 of 903) are in decline, and of these declining species, the average drop is a whopping 83 per cent. Even more surprising, the numbers for at-risk species – those protected by the Species at Risk Act, or SARA – are even worse. SARA-listed populations have continued to decrease by an average of 28% and the rate of decline is actually increasing – all of this, despite protections afforded by the act.

Mammal populations have decreased by 41%, fish by 20% and reptiles and amphibians by 34%. Although overall bird populations have increased slightly, there are widely differing trends. Since 1970, grassland birds (e.g., bobolinks, meadowlarks) have plunged 69%, aerial foragers (e.g., swallows, swifts, flycatchers) have fallen 51% and shorebirds (e.g., plovers, sandpipers) have decreased by 43 %.

One of the most troublesome population declines in Canada’s central region, which includes Ontario, is that of reptiles and amphibians. These include snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs and salamanders. The study looked at 73 monitored populations of 28 species. Habitat loss, in combination with fragmentation (i.e., dividing the landscape up into smaller and more isolated parts), road mortality and pollution are some of the major threats to these animals. Freshwater fish have also taken a beating. Looking just at Lake Ontario, fish populations declined 32 per cent, on average, between 1992 and 2014. Later this fall, I hope to do a column on the status of local fish populations.

Losses in the Kawarthas

Unfortunately, the Kawarthas is not immune to these declines, either. A brief look at four iconic species is very telling.

1. Snapping turtle: Although snapping turtles can live for more than a century, they take up to 20 years to reach breeding age. Therefore, the loss of even one turtle can have a big impact on the population. Threats include habitat loss and degradation as well as road mortality. This year has seen a huge spike in turtle deaths and injuries, mostly because of collisions with cars and boats. As of August 16, the total number of turtles brought to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough was close to 800! This included 273 snapping turtles. The Centre has never seen so many injured or dead turtles. One very large snapping turtle was classified as “attacked by human”. A large metal rod was removed from the turtle’s shell, but internal injuries led to its demise. Snapping turtles are currently listed as a species of Special Concern under SARA.

Snapping Turtle digging nest on roadside (Danielle Tassie )

2. Little brown bat: Bats have been suffering for years from habitat destruction and persecution. Now, they are up against white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that arrived in the Kawarthas about six years ago. The disease causes the bats to awaken too early from their winter sleep. Early awakening depletes their body reserves of stored water, electrolytes and fat, and they end up dying. White-nose syndrome has already wiped out 94 per cent of little brown bats in eastern Canada. This may be the most rapid mammal decline ever documented. Large numbers of little brown bats used to overwinter in abandoned mine shafts in the Bancroft area and even some in the Warsaw Caves. The little brown bat was emergency-listed as Endangered under SARA in 2014.

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome – Wikimedia

3. Bobolink:  These sparrow-like birds are a joy to see and hear. The males have a distinctive jet-black front and big patches of white. They were once a common sight in meadows nearly everywhere in the Kawarthas. The intensification of farming operations, however, has resulted in widespread loss and deterioration of their old field and meadow habitat. Because they nest in hay fields, they often lose their eggs or young to mowing. Bobolink populations in Canada have crashed by 88 per cent in just 40 years. In 2017, a SARA listing was proposed for this species as Threatened.

Male Bobolink – Wikimedia

4. Barn Swallow: For anyone growing up on a farm or spending time at a cottage in the Kawarthas, barn swallows used to be a constant presence in summer. They would dart gracefully over fields, barnyards and open water, swooping effortlessly to catch insects. They were taken as much for granted as robins are now. Between 1970 and 2014, barn swallows declined by 66 percent in Ontario. Although not yet fully understood, the causes for the decline include loss of nesting and feeding habitat, along with what appears to be a reduction in insect numbers. Insect decline may be linked to pesticides, which often end up in water bodies where insects breed. Barn swallows are now listed as “threatened” on the Species at Risk list in Ontario. This means that the bird is likely to become endangered if the appropriate steps are not taken.

Barn Swallow (Karl Egressy)

As we have seen from these profiles, wildlife declines are being driven primarily by habitat loss. This comes mostly from the impacts of forestry, agriculture, urbanization and industrial development. Other threats include climate change (Canada’s warming is twice the global average); pollution (e.g., pesticides, agricultural runoff, heat and noise pollution); invasive species (e.g., zebra mussels) and unsustainable harvest (e.g., overfishing). These effects are cumulative and cascading. For example, changes in the status of one species (e.g., insects) often lead to changes in others (e.g., insect-eating birds).

You don’t have to look far to see these threats playing out in the Kawarthas. Regardless of the merits of a given project or practice, wildlife are almost always on the losing end. In terms of habitat loss, housing developments (e.g., Lily Lake, Television Road, Millbrook)  destroy habitat for grassland birds; hedgerow removal (e.g., Keene area) is eliminating nesting sites for birds as well as pollinators; widening Rye Street will undoubtedly impact Harper Creek brook trout; new or expanded cottages and homes on the Kawartha Lakes is degrading nesting habitat for loons and spawning sites for walleye; a proposed housing development adjacent to Loggerhead Marsh will almost certainly effect amphibians; population growth, along with new roads (e.g., 407 extension, widening of Pioneer Road ) is resulting in more road mortality for turtles; Peterborough’s new casino will degrade the habitat value of Harper Park because of light and  noise pollution, along with increased traffic; and the replacement of old barns with new, less nesting-friendly structures, is impacting barn swallows. Non-native invasive species such as Phragmites and dog-strangling vine are thriving in the Kawarthas and choking out native vegetation in the process. Another invasive, the emerald ash borer, is decimating ash trees. Climate change, which actually accelerates the growth of many invasive plants, is already making the Kawarthas too warm for formerly common birds like gray jays. Climate change-related weather extremes, such as the drought we experienced last summer, are further weakening many tree species, which are already under siege by fungal diseases. These include butternut, beech and elms.

The relentless march of housing developments into rural land. Parkhill Road at Ravenwood Drive in Peterborough, Ontario  (Drew Monkman photo)

Taking Action

The findings of WWF-Canada’s national Living Planet Report make it clear we need to do more to protect species at risk. We also need to halt the decline of other wildlife before they land on the at-risk list in the first place. We need action from communities, industry, government and individuals. As a nation, we need to do a better job collecting and sharing data on ecosystem health and species habitat. We must also enhance research on the impacts of, and response to, climate change; strengthen implementation of the Species at Risk Act and shift toward ecosystem-based action plans instead of a species-based approach. Expanding Canada’s network of protected areas is also crucial.

None of this will happen – or happen fast enough – unless more Canadians make a personal commitment to nature. Individual action is powerful, especially when your neighbours, friends and family see you stepping up. So, what can you do?

1. Most importantly, be careful who you vote for. Support parties and candidates who put environmental values such as wildlife conservation and climate change measures front and centre. Be sure your vote goes to politicians who value green space and will fight for adequate funding of government agencies like MNR and Parks Canada. Maybe run for office yourself!

2. Give money. In the U.S. last year, environmental giving represented only 3% of all charitable donations. I doubt the numbers are much different in Canada. If you want to give locally, consider the Kawartha Land Trust or the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre.

3. Take direct action. You can do this by planting pollinator gardens, stopping for turtles, removing invasive species or participating in a Citizen Science project in which you monitor species. The possibilities are endless.

4. Encourage your child’s teacher and principal to provide nature and outdoor education opportunities for students.

5. Be a role model. Show interest, enthusiasm and concern for nature. It’s contagious.

6. Going forward, we all need to consider whether it’s really possible to maintain healthy and diverse wildlife populations in a society based on continual economic growth – no matter how green future energy sources might be. We might be kidding ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sep 142017
 

For anyone paying attention, the biggest story of the past summer has been the fury unleashed by planet Earth as a result of climate change. As Clive Hunter, an Australian public intellectual, said on CBC Radio’s Ideas recently, “What we’re now confronted with is a wakened, angry, raging beast.” The evidence is everywhere: the worst fire season ever in B.C.; the worst wildfire ever in Los Angeles; hundreds of billions of dollars of hurricane devastation in Houston, the Caribbean and Florida; catastrophic flooding affecting millions in India, Nepal and Bangladesh; temperatures too hot for jets to take off in Phoenix – and the list goes on.

It’s hard not to despair. Equally despairing, however, is that denial – or simply ignoring or downplaying the threat of climate change – is still rampant. And not just on the part of Donald Trump. How often does the topic come up in your own circle of family and friends? If you listened to hurricane coverage on American TV networks, you wouldn’t have even heard the words climate change. However, what climate science research has learned and is predicting for the future are facts – not ideologies, opinions or preferences. They come from three hundred years of perfecting the scientific method and are as robust and well-defended as any body of knowledge out there. Sitting back and simply being “hopeful” that things won’t be as bad as science is telling us is a recipe for even greater disaster. We cannot let skeptics dismiss these disasters as natural weather events we cannot influence. That being said, the scope of the necessary response in terms of mitigation and adaptation is far beyond anything politicians are currently proposing. Many experts believe it will require nothing less than a complete re-thinking of our economic system and of humankind’s relationship with the natural world.

On a more positive note, a heartening story this summer has been the stellar rebound in monarch butterfly numbers. Whereas last year I may have seen a few dozen, this year I’ve observed hundreds. Don Davis, an Ontario monarch expert who tags these insects, told me this week that he found over 100 caterpillars near Cobourg in just a few hours of searching. He also said that 2000 monarchs were at the tip of Point Pelee National Park on September 8 and that there were recently 100 or more on the west beaches of Presqu’ile Provincial Park. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, there is a good prospect that the overwintering population in Mexico will increase from the 2.91 hectares of last year to 4 hectares or better this coming winter.

Monarch on Buddleia (butterfly bush) at Millennium Park – photo by Ben Wolfe

The most likely explanation for the boom in numbers is simply the weather. This summer did not see the hot, dry conditions of recent years, which killed wildflowers and reduced the availability of nectar. Weather conditions were also good this spring for the monarch’s migration from Mexico to Canada. Monarchs are extremely vulnerable to weather extremes, many of which are linked to climate change. This is true during the breeding season, along the migration route and on their Mexican wintering grounds.

The public is becoming much more aware of the need to protect monarchs and pollinators in general. An indication of this is the growing popularity of pollinator gardens. These are gardens planted predominantly with flowers that provide nectar and pollen for a wide range of pollinator species from spring through fall. Host plants (e.g., milkweed) on which butterflies can lay their eggs should also be included. Here in the Kawarthas, nearly 180 pollinator gardens have been registered with Peterborough Pollinators, a group dedicated to creating a pollinator-friendly community. If you wish to register your garden, please go to PeterboroughPollinators.com/Register. Once registered, you can pick up a garden sign by emailing ptbopollinators@gmail.com  A map of existing gardens will be on display at the Peterborough Pollinators’ booth at the Purple Onion Festival on September 24 at Millennium Park. There will also be pollinator exhibits and garden signs will be available.

Peterborough Pollinators garden on Medical Drive
(photo by Drew Monkman)

Looking ahead to the fall, here is a list of events in nature that are typical of autumn in the Kawarthas.

Mid- to late September

·         Fall songbird migration is in full swing. Migrants such as warblers are often in mixed flocks with chickadees and can be coaxed in for close-up views by using “pishing”. To see and hear this birding technique in action, go to http://bit.ly/2cpznE8

·         Broad-winged hawks migrate south over the Kawarthas in mid-September. Sunny days with cumulous clouds and northwest winds are best. Watch for high-altitude “kettles”, which is a group of hawks soaring and circling in the sky. Migration usually peaks on about September 15.

·         Thanks to ample rain, this should be a great fall for mushrooms. Kawartha Land Trust’s Stony Lake Trails are a great destination for mushroom-viewing. Park at 105 Reid’s Road. Details at http://bit.ly/2h3nYJg

·         Peterborough Field Naturalists hold their Sunday Morning Nature Walks this month and next. Meet at the Riverview Park and Zoo parking lot at 8 am and bring binoculars. Indoor meetings take place on the second Wednesday of the month. For more information, go to peterboroughnature.org

·         As the goldenrods begin to fade, asters take centre stage. The white flowers of heath, panicled and calico asters, along with the purple and mauve blossoms of New England, purple-stemmed and heart-leaved asters provide much of the show. Visit http://bit.ly/2fhW4sN (Ontario Wildflowers) for tips on identifying these beautiful but under appreciated plants.

Canada goldenrod (left) and New England aster on Trans-Canada Trail (photo by Drew Monkman)

·         Listen for the constant calling of blue jays and the metronome-like “chuck-chuck…” call of chipmunks, which can go on for hours. The call is often given in response to danger such as the presence of a hawk.

October

·         Fall colours in the Kawarthas usually peak early in the month. The sunshine and cool weather in September should mean excellent colour this year. County Roads 620 and 504 around Chandos Lake east of Apsley makes for a great colour drive.

·         Don’t miss the Harvest Moon. This year it occurs on October 5. The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the fall equinox (September 22).

·         Sparrow migration takes centre stage this month, making October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. Scatter millet or finch mix on the ground to attract dark-eyed juncos and both white-throated and white-crowned sparrows.

Juncos and White-throated Sparrows feeding on ground – (photo by Drew Monkman)

·         Indian Summer days are magical. Watch for floating threads of “ballooning” spiders.

·         Ecology Park holds its “Little Tree Sale” on October 15. Fall is a great time to plant trees.

·         A tide of yellow spreads across the landscape in mid- through late October. The colour is supplied courtesy of trembling and bigtooth aspens, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch, and, at month’s end, tamarack.

Trembling Aspen (photo by Drew Monkman)

·         As ducks move southward, consider a visit to the Lakefield sewage lagoon. It is located on the south side of County Road 33, just south of Lakefield. Be careful to avoid blocking the gate when you park. Goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup and mergansers are often present in large numbers. If you have a spotting scope, be sure to take it along. The sewage lagoon is one of the best birding locations in the Kawarthas.

·         Watch for Venus and Mars at dawn and Saturn in the evening.

·         The first northern finches usually start turning up in late October. To learn which species to expect this fall and winter, Google “winter finch forecast 2017-2018”. The forecast, compiled by Ron Pittaway, is usually available online by early October.

·         On October 25, Jacob Rodenburg will speak to the Peterborough Horticultural Society on “Pathway to Stewardship: How we teach kids about the environment” The meeting , which is open to all, takes place at the Peterborough Lions Centre, 347 Burnham Street.

November

·         Oaks, tamaracks and silver maples are about the only native deciduous trees that still retain foliage in early November. The brownish-orange to burgundy leaves of red oaks stand out with particular prominence. At a glance, you can see just how common oaks are in many areas of the Kawarthas.

·         We return to Standard Time on Sunday, November 5, and turn our clocks back one hour. Sunrise on the 5th is at 6:56 am and sunset at 4:57 pm for a total of only 10 hours of daylight. Compare this to the 15 1/2 hours we enjoyed back in June!

·         The red berries of wetland species like winterberry holly and high-bush cranberry provide some much needed November colour.


Winterberry holly – (photo by Drew Monkman)

·         Most of our loons and robins head south this month. However, small numbers of robins regularly overwinter in the Kawarthas. Their numbers will likely be much lower than last year, given the small wild grape crop. Grapes are a staple food for winter robins.

·         Ball-like swellings known as galls are easy to see on the stems of goldenrods. If you open the gall with a knife, you will find the small, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly inside. In the spring, it will emerge as an adult fly.

·         Damp, decomposing leaves on the forest floor scent the November air.

·         With the onset of cold temperatures, wood frogs, gray treefrogs, chorus frogs, and spring peepers take shelter in the leaf litter of the forest floor and literally become small blocks of amphibian ice. Glycerol, acting as an antifreeze, inhibits freezing within the frogs’ cells.

I would like to thank Martin and Kathy Parker, Tim Dyson, Cathy Dueck and Gordon Johnson for having done such an admirable job filling in for me this summer. We are fortunate in the Kawarthas to have so many people with extensive knowledge of nature and environmental education.

Aug 172017
 

Why Climate Change Isn’t Our Biggest Environmental Problem, and Why Technology Won’t Save Us
by Richard Heinberg
Published by Post Carbon Institute – August 17, 2017

Reposted with permission from Ecowatch.

Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing, and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution, and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity. The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species, and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefitted from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components). As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates. Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion, and pollution. Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

However, in recent decades, as climate change has come to dominate environmental concerns, there has been a significant shift in the discussion. Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.

Why have environmental writers and advocacy organizations succumbed to tunnel vision? Perhaps it’s simply that they assume systems thinking is beyond the capacity of policy makers. It’s true: if climate scientists were to approach world leaders with the message, “We have to change everything, including our entire economic system—and fast,” they might be shown the door rather rudely. A more acceptable message is, “We have identified a serious pollution problem, for which there are technical solutions.” Perhaps many of the scientists who did recognize the systemic nature of our ecological crisis concluded that if we can successfully address this one make-or-break environmental crisis, we’ll be able to buy time to deal with others waiting in the wings (overpopulation, species extinctions, resource depletion, and on and on).

If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures. Technology—in this case, solar, wind, and nuclear power generators, as well as batteries, electric cars, heat pumps, and, if all else fails, solar radiation management via atmospheric aerosols—centers our thinking on subjects like financial investment and industrial production. Discussion participants don’t have to develop the ability to think systemically, nor do they need to understand the Earth system and how human systems fit into it. All they need trouble themselves with is the prospect of shifting some investments, setting tasks for engineers, and managing the resulting industrial-economic transformation so as to ensure that new jobs in green industries compensate for jobs lost in coal mines.

The strategy of buying time with a techno-fix presumes either that we will be able to institute systemic change at some unspecified point in the future even though we can’t do it just now (a weak argument on its face), or that climate change and all of our other symptomatic crises will in fact be amenable to technological fixes. The latter thought-path is again a comfortable one for managers and investors. After all, everybody loves technology. It already does nearly everything for us. During the last century it solved a host of problems: it cured diseases, expanded food production, sped up transportation, and provided us with information and entertainment in quantities and varieties no one could previously have imagined. Why shouldn’t it be able to solve climate change and all the rest of our problems?

Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose. But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful. I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity, and demand adaptation. At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating, and transportation) to electricity. Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution. When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth. The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.

Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic.

The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics (“There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss”).  Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

In its early years the environmental movement made that moral argument, and it worked up to a point. Concern over rapid population growth led to family planning efforts around the world. Concern over biodiversity declines led to habitat protection. Concern over air and water pollution led to a slew of regulations. These efforts weren’t sufficient, but they showed that framing our systemic problem in moral terms could get at least some traction.

Why didn’t the environmental movement fully succeed? Some theorists now calling themselves “bright greens” or “eco-modernists” have abandoned the moral fight altogether. Their justification for doing so is that people want a vision of the future that’s cheery and that doesn’t require sacrifice. Now, they say, only a technological fix offers any hope. The essential point of this essay (and my manifesto) is simply that, even if the moral argument fails, a techno-fix won’t work either. A gargantuan investment in technology (whether next-generation nuclear power or solar radiation geo-engineering) is being billed as our last hope. But in reality it’s no hope at all.

The reason for the failure thus far of the environmental movement wasn’t that it appealed to humanity’s moral sentiments—that was in fact the movement’s great strength. The effort fell short because it wasn’t able to alter industrial society’s central organizing principle, which is also its fatal flaw: its dogged pursuit of growth at all cost. Now we’re at the point where we must finally either succeed in overcoming growthism or face the failure not just of the environmental movement, but of civilization itself.

The good news is that systemic change is fractal in nature: it implies, indeed it requires, action at every level of society. We can start with our own individual choices and behavior; we can work within our communities. We needn’t wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.

There’s more good news: once we humans choose to restrain our numbers and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts. Machines can help us monitor our progress, and there are relatively simple technologies that can help deliver needed services with less energy usage and environmental damage. Some ways of deploying technology could even help us clean up the atmosphere and restore ecosystems.

But machines won’t make the key choices that will set us on a sustainable path. Systemic change driven by moral awakening: it’s not just our last hope; it’s the only real hope we’ve ever had.

Jun 222017
 

Now that summer has officially arrived, I would like to look ahead at some of the events in nature that we can expect over the next three months. The actual timing of events is directly affected by temperature, rainfall, and day length. While these environmental factors obviously change throughout the year, a changing climate is also having an impact on when various happenings in nature occur.

In April, for example, Peterborough received about 1.6 times more precipitation than usual, while in May, this number jumped to 2.3 times the usual rainfall. According to The Weather Network, the summer forecast for central Ontario is pointing towards above-normal precipitation, as well. This, in turn, will probably mean more mosquitoes than usual.

Rainfall – May 2017 (Drew Monkman)

The near-record wet spring and flooding in much of eastern Canada   is almost certainly linked to climate change. First, the jet stream — the meandering high altitude winds that flow west to east — is wavier than in the past. It is also moving more slowly and can therefore become locked in place. This means the same weather can persist for weeks on end like we saw with the continuous rain in April and May. Storms, for example, get stuck over a region and don’t move out as quickly as in the past. Meteorologists are linking these changes in jet stream behaviour to a warming Arctic where surface and lower atmosphere temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth. A warming climate also means that there is more water vapour in the atmosphere. Ocean temperatures are higher, so there is more evaporation and more moist air coming onto the continent from the oceans. The intensity of storms is also increasing because of the energy released from the extra water vapour in the atmosphere.

By keeping track of the dates of happenings such as flowering, bird migration and colour change in leaves, scientists can see how seasonal patterns are changing and thereby make predictions for the future. Already, many flowering dates are happening earlier on average.  The following is a list of events in nature that are typical of summer in the Kawarthas.

Late June

·         Turtles can still be seen along roadsides and rail-trails laying their eggs. Please slow down in turtle-crossing zones and, if it is safe, help the animal across the road.

Snapping Turtle digging nest on roadside (Danielle Tassie )

·         Monarch butterflies have returned – the “grandchildren” of those that flew to Mexico last fall. Local monarch numbers appear quite good so far this year. Make sure you have some milkweed in your garden on which they can lay their eggs.

·         Is your garden a haven for bees, butterflies and other pollinators? If so, please take a moment to register your garden in the Peterborough Pollinators 150 Garden Challenge. The group’s goal is identify a network of 150 existing & new pollinator gardens in the Peterborough area to help celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial birthday. Go to peterboroughpollinators.com/Register/

Be sure to register your pollinator garden in the Peterborough Pollinators 150 Garden Challenge – Drew Monkman

·         All of the rain we’ve had has created extensive breeding grounds for mosquitoes. We may be looking at a buggier than normal summer.

July

·         Common milkweed is in flower and its rich, honey-sweet perfume fills the early summer air. The scent serves to attract insects whose feet will inadvertently pick up the flowers’ sticky pollinia – small packets containing pollen – and transfer them to another plant. If the insect is not strong enough, however, it can actually become stuck to the pollinia and die.

Common Milkweed

·         A huge number of other plants are blooming, as well. In wetland habitats, watch for common elderberry, swamp milkweed, Joe-Pye weed, yellow pond lily and fragrant white water lily. Along roadsides and in meadows, watch for ox-eye daisy, yarrow, viper’s bugloss, black-eyed Susan, Queen Anne’s lace, wild bergamot, purple-flowering raspberry and orange hawkweed – to name a few.

·         July is a great time to turn your attention to butterflies. Although these colourful insects can be found just about everywhere, Petroglyphs Provincial Park and Sandy Lake Road south of Lasswade are two of the best locations for less common species like skippers and hairstreaks.

·         It is hard to go anywhere near water in July and not notice dragonflies and damselflies. Some even turn up in suburban gardens. To tell them apart, remember that dragonflies have thick bodies, are strong fliers, and their wings are open at rest. Damselflies are usually much smaller, have thin bodies, are weak fliers, and their wings are closed or only partially spread at rest. Some of the most frequently seen damselflies are powder-blue in colour, hence the common name of “bluets.” As for dragonflies, some common species include the dot-tailed whiteface, common whitetail, twelve-spotted skimmer and chalk-fronted skimmer. Go to odonatacentral.org/ for pictures of all Ontario dragonflies and damselflies. Click on “checklists” and then type “Ontario” in the search box.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer – Drew Monkman

·         By mid-July, the buzzy, electric song of the dog-day cicada fills the void created by the decrease in bird song.

·         Watch for mushrooms such as white pine boletes and fly agarics. Summer – not fall – usually produces the greatest variety of species. With all the rain we’ve had this year, mushrooms should be more abundant than usual.

August

·         Listen for the high-pitched “lisping” calls of cedar waxwings and the “po-ta-to-chip” flight call of the American goldfinch. Watch for waxwings on the branches of dead trees along the River Road between Trent University and Lakefield. They sally out from these branches to catch insects on the wing.

·         A large percentage of the insect music we here this month comes courtesy of crickets and katydids. For example, the soft, rhythmic “treet…treet…treet” of the snowy tree cricket sounds like a gentle-voiced spring peeper. Its beautiful rhythmic pulsations actually provide a good estimate of air temperature. Watch and listen at bit.ly/18nGrJ3

·         By mid-August, ragweed is in full bloom and its pollen has hay fever sufferers cursing with every sneeze. Goldenrod, which relies on insects to spread its sticky, heavy pollen, is not the culprit. The small, green flowers of the ragweed, however, rely strictly on the wind to spread the ultra light, spike-covered pollen grains. Research done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has shown that over the past four or five decades the higher CO2 levels associated with global warming may have doubled the amount of pollen that ragweed is producing.

Ragweed. Note green flower spikes at top – Drew Monkman

·         Small dragonflies known as meadowhawks abound. Mature males are red, while females and immature males are yellowish. They are common in suburban gardens.

Meadowhawk (Sympetrum) dragonfly – Margo Hughes

·         Cottagers sometimes find large, mysterious, jelly-like “blobs” attached to the dock or aquatic plants. They are formed by colonies of Bryozoa, a freshwater invertebrate. Looking somewhat like an egg mass, the clumps are clear, dense, and have distinct, repetitive patterns and markings on the outside. Bryozoa are like a freshwater coral in that the mass they form is actually a colony of thousands of zooids – roughly analogous to polyps in corals. Each tiny zooid has whorls of ciliated feeding tentacles that sway back in forth to catch plankton in the water.

·         Songbird migration is in full swing by late August, with numerous warblers, vireos and flycatchers moving through. These birds can easily be attracted by pishing. If you see or hear chickadees in late August, you can usually assume that migrants will be with them.

·         Goldenrods reach peak bloom at month’s end and become the dominate flowers of roadsides and fields. These plants are veritable insect magnets, drawing in an amazing variety of species with their offerings of pollen and nectar.

  September

·         Monarch butterfly numbers are at their highest. Monarchs congregate at peninsulas on the Great Lakes such as Presqu’ile Provincial Park, a jumping off point for their migration across Lake Ontario and on to Mexico. A monarch tagging demonstration will be held on the afternoon of September 2 and 3. Monarch expert Don Davis will be on hand to answer questions and to show how the butterflies are tagged with a tiny adhesive sticker bearing a number and return address. You will even have the chance to release a tagged butterfly! There will also be bird-banding demonstrations and guided nature walks. Go to friendsofpresquile.on.ca for more information.

·         Large mating swarms of winged ants are a common September phenomenon, especially on warm, humid afternoons. Some are females – the potential future queens – but the majority are males. Ants bear wings only during the mating season.

·         Two species of white-flowered vines are very noticeable, especially along woodland edges where they sprawl over fences, shrubs and trees. They are wild cucumber, which develop into roundish, cucumber-like seed pods covered in soft bristles, and Virgin’s bower, identified by its distinctive, fluffy seed heads of gray, silky plumes.

·         By late September, the purples, mauves, and whites of asters reign supreme in fields and along roadsides and represent the year’s last offering of wildflowers. The most common species include New England, heath, panicled and heart-leaved asters.

Heart-leaved Asters – Drew Monkman

·         Be sure to put your bird feeders up this month. If you scatter millet or finch mix on the ground, you should be able to attract white-throated sparrows which migrate south in late September.

·         A bumper crop of spruce cones may bring birds such as white-winged crossbills into central Ontario.

·          Most years, Virginia creeper vine, poison ivy, choke cherry and staghorn sumac reach their colour peak at about the fall equinox, which occurs this year on September 22.

 

 

Jun 152017
 

Every culture has its own origin story. They may be short anecdotes or elaborate narratives that help explain the mysteries of our existence. “Big History” is an origin story unlike any other. Instead of being rooted in a specific culture or geography, it presents a science-based perspective and is therefore the story of all of humanity. The Big History Project was started by Bill Gates and David Christian to enable the global teaching of what they describe as “the attempt to understand, in a unified way, the history of Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity.”

This week, I’d like to present readers with a greatly simplified version of the Big History story in a form that can be shared with children – maybe sitting out in the backyard under a starlit sky. By knowing this story, they will understand that humans are deeply embedded in the natural world and hopefully be inspired to protect the myriad species and habitats with which we co-evolved. Learn the story yourself, and tell it to the children in your life. More information can be found at bighistoryproject.com

Humans are the Universe becoming aware of itself (Photo by Halfblue)

“Tonight, I’m going to tell you the most amazing story you’ve ever heard. And, even better, it’s true. The story is based on everything that science has discovered. Remember, science is the tool we use to find out what’s really true about the world around us. Let’s begin by looking up at the sky and at all those stars. It’s a big Universe out there. Bigger than you or I can possibly imagine. If you’re like me, you can’t help but wonder how and when all of this began. How and why are we here?

This story takes place over 14 billion years, which is an incredibly long time. It would take five human lifetimes to count to 14 billion. So, to make this easier, we’re going to imagine that the story is squeezed into one calendar year. In other words, the story will begin on January 1 and end on December 31.

Let’s get started… In the beginning, there was nothing. There were no humans, no dinosaurs, no rocks, no stars and not even space or time. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it, but it’s true. Then, all of a sudden, there was a flash of very bright and very hot light. It was like an explosion, but brighter and more powerful than any explosion you or I could ever dream of. It was called ‘The Big Bang’ – the time when the Universe was born. It was January 1 on our time scale.

The Big Bang to the first stars – Wikimedia

At first, all there was heat and light. But, as the Universe began to cool, clouds of tiny particles called atoms began to form. These were the atoms of hydrogen – the main component of water – and helium – the gas we use in party balloons that float on air. Eventually, gravity started compacting these clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms. The temperature at the centre of each cloud grew higher and higher until, suddenly, there was a huge release of energy and Boom! – we had our first stars. Billions of them across the Universe. On our calendar, we are in mid-January.

Now, stars are like people; they are born and eventually die. When very large stars die and explode, they are called supernovae. They become so hot and their gravity so strong that the helium and hydrogen atoms are actually squeezed into new kinds of atoms like oxygen, iron, carbon and even gold. If you are wearing gold jewelry, the gold was made in a supernova explosion. So were all the other atoms in your body except hydrogen. These atoms include the calcium in your bones, the iron in your blood and the oxygen that binds with hydrogen to create the water that you drink.

Take a moment to think about what I just said. These old stars were actually our ancestors. They had to exist so that we could be here. We are made of their dust – stardust! Doesn’t knowing this make you feel like the Universe is a more wonderful place to live in?

Now, with all these different kinds of atoms swirling around younger stars like our Sun, they eventually combined to form asteroids, comets and planets. This is how our solar system and our Earth were formed four and a half billion years ago. On our time scale, we’ve jumped all the way to early September.

As the new planet Earth began to cool, rain fell for the first time and gathered into oceans. Beneath these oceans, at cracks in the ocean floor, heat seeped up from inside the Earth. New chemical reactions began to take place and atoms combined in all sorts of new ways. Some of these combinations were able to make copies of themselves and to eventually form an amazing chemical (molecule) called DNA. It’s the molecule in the genes of all living things. Scientists believe that this is probably how life began. Some think life may also have travelled here from another planet, maybe even Mars. On our time scale, we are now in mid-September.

Structure of the DNA molecule – Wikimedia

One of the most amazing things about DNA is that it’s not perfect. When it copies itself, mistakes sometimes occur. A mistake can have a positive effect, a negative effect or no effect. A positive effect, for example, might give a bird a bigger bill than other members of its species and therefore allow it to survive more easily. This new trait, which will be passed on to its young, can eventually result in whole new species. We call this evolution.

For most of the time of life on Earth, living organisms were very simple. Like present-day bacteria, they were made up of a single cell. However, these cells were still quite complex. Early plant cells, for example, evolved the ability to use the sun’s energy to make food through photosynthesis in which sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (the gas we exhale when we breathe) are converted into sugar and oxygen. On our calendar, this happened in late September.

An artist’s rendition of photosynthesis – Wikimedia

Then, about 700 million years ago (around December 5), living things made up of multiple cells began to appear. In the oceans, animals such as sponges and jellyfish emerged. The first ancestors of insects appeared in mid-December, followed by the first fish. On December 20, the first plants colonized the land when algae (seaweed) evolved ways to survive outside of water. Some of these plants were able to grow into trees when changes in their DNA led to the production of sturdy wood in the stems.

On about December 21, the first true insects appeared. Some, like dragonflies, have hardly changed since. Amphibians, like salamanders, evolved from fish that had developed the ability to crawl out of the water and breathe air. One of these, a fossil called Tiktaalik, was discovered in the Canadian arctic. It is part fish and part amphian. Next, reptiles like turtles appeared on the scene and, by Christmas day, the dinosaurs. The first mammals appeared December 26, the first birds on December 27 and the first plants with flowers on December 28.

An artist’s recreation of what Tiktaalik looked like – Wikimedia

 

Occasionally, there were disasters. Sixty-five million years ago (December 30 at 6 am on our scale), a 10 kilometre-wide asteroid smashed into the Earth near Mexico. It caused winter-like conditions over the entire planet. For a long time, it was impossible for plants to grow. The dinosaurs were wiped out. Many of our mammal ancestors, however, managed to survive and to flourish in the habitats left empty by the dinosaurs. Through evolution, they changed into many different species.

By late on December 30, some of these mammals had evolved into primates that lived in trees and evolved fingers and toes to hold onto branches. One group of primates, probably looking a little like today’s chimpanzees, learned to walk upright. These were the first primitive humans. They appeared on December 31 – New Year’s Eve – at about 10 pm.

Over time, because of changes in DNA and reasons that we’re just beginning to understand, the human brain tripled in size. With bigger brains, humans were able to develop language and became much better at learning, remembering and passing on information to the next generation. They adopted wolves, which became the dogs we know today. The dogs helped them hunt and provided protection. By eight minutes before midnight on December 31, these early humans looked almost identical to us.

About 70,000 years ago, some humans left the plains of Africa and began migrating to new continents like Europe, Asia and North America. Each migration involved learning — learning new ways of dealing with their surroundings.

Model of Homo erectus – an ancestor of today’s humans – Wikimedia

Then, just 10,000 years ago (18 seconds before midnight) humans learned to farm. With all the food they were able to produce, the human populations got much larger and different groups of humans became more connected to each other. Written language was invented and humans learned to read. At two seconds before midnight, Christopher Columbus traveled to the Americas.

In the last second of our time scale, all of modern history has taken place. With cars, airplanes, radio, phones and now the Internet, humans have become more connected than ever. This has allowed us to learn faster than ever, too. And, in the last 200 years, something else has happened. We stumbled on a cheap, incredibly powerful source of energy in the form of fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil. Fossil fuels and connected learning together explain the modern world we see around us. At the same time, however, burning fossil fuels is changing our climate and making our future less certain. It may be difficult to live as we are now in the climate that is coming.

So, hear we are at the campfire. We’ve been on a journey of almost 14 billion years. Don’t you feel lucky to know the true story of how we humans, along with all the other species and modern civilization came to be here? Where the story goes from here is largely up to us. How will you help?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 232017
 

As we turn the corner into spring, let’s pause a moment to reflect back on the winter that’s been. For many people, the temperate weather was a blessing, with only moderate snowfall and temperatures well above average. Yes, the abnormally mild winter did make life easier for most of us. At the same time, however, any remaining climate skeptics need to accept the weather – both locally and continent-wide – for what it really was: yet more proof of climate change and climate chaos.

Record-warm temperatures and extreme weather events were the pattern across North America. While California received a deluge of biblical proportions and Arctic winter sea ice dwindled to record lows, a “record-setting record” was being established across the entire U.S. and much of Canada. No fewer than 1,151 record highs were set in the U.S. in February, compared to only two record lows. This translates into a  575-to-1 ratio of highs to lows, which is believed to be a record for the most lopsided monthly ratio in U.S. history. An increasing ratio of this kind is a hallmark of climate change. If the planet wasn’t warming, that ratio should remain constant at about 1-to-1. With each passing decade, record highs are outpacing record lows at an ever-increasing rate.

Since August 2015, only one month in the Kawarthas has been cooler than average. This past January and February were both nearly 5 C above normal. Not surprisingly, many migrants returned two to three weeks earlier than usual. The last days of February saw the arrival of turkey vultures, common grackles, red-winged blackbirds and killdeer – species we usually don’t see until the third week of March. As for robins, well, they had never left. Record numbers chose to overwinter in the Kawarthas this year, thanks mostly to the huge crop of wild grape.

Red-winged Blackbird – Karl Egressy

Early bird arrivals were only part of the “spring in February” story. Maple syrup producers in central Ontario were collecting and boiling sap two to three weeks earlier than usual; the buds scales of trembling aspens,  pussy willows, lilacs and silver maple opened; and snowdrops and crocuses began to poke above the snow in many gardens. However, despite all the climate chaos we’ve been seeing, an EKOS poll found that Canadians are less concerned about climate change than they were a decade ago. I suspect that one reason for this sad state of affairs is that weather reports almost never mention climate change and always frame mild temperatures in a positive context. Other than the odd interview with meteorologist David Phillips of Environment Canada, when do you hear weathercasters alerting viewers to the connection between extreme weather and the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? This is a shameful failure of weathercasters to fulfill their duty to the public. Imagine if doctors behaved this way with their patients!

With the caveat that climate change is disrupting the timing of events in nature, I would still like to remind readers of the mileposts of spring’s progression. Regardless of what the weather throws at us, the order of the events, which are listed chronologically, should remain the same.

Late March

·         It’s time to start indoor sowing of annuals for your pollinator garden. Some great species include Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and catnips (Nepeta).

·         For anyone paying attention, the increase in bird song is hard to miss. If you don’t already know the voices of common songsters like the American robin and the song sparrow, this is a great time to start learning them. Go to allaboutbirds.org, enter the name of the species, and click on the Sound tab.

·         With a bit of work, you should be able to find a dozen or more species of migrating waterfowl. Some hotspots include Little Lake, the Otonabee River, the Lakefield sewage lagoon on County Road 33 and Clear Lake at Young’s Point. Watch for ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, lesser scaup, common goldeneye, and both common and hooded mergansers.

Common Goldeneye male – Karl Egressy

April

·          April is a busy time for feeders. American tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos and, later in the month, white-throated sparrows move north through the Kawarthas in large numbers. They can all be attracted by spreading millet or finch mix on the ground.

·         The yellow, dandelion-like flowers we see growing in roadside ditches in early April are a non-native species known as coltsfoot.

·         Peterborough Pollinators is hoping to see 150 pollinator gardens registered in Peterborough and area to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. You can register an existing pollinator-friendly garden or commemorate the occasion by starting a new one. Go to PeterboroughPollinators.com/Register.

·         The Peterborough Garden Show runs from April 7 to 9 at the Evinrude Centre. Don’t miss Cathy Dueck’s talk entitled “Pollinators: What Every Gardener Should Know” at 10:30 a.m. on April 9.

·         Now is the time to put out nesting structures for stem-dwelling bee species. Commercially-made nests are available or you can make your own out of Phragmites stems. Seeds.ca/pollination is a great resource as is the 2017 Peterborough Pollinators Calendar, which is available at the Avant Garden Shop on Sherbrooke St. or by contacting Peterborough Pollinators.

·         Close to 30 species of birds are nesting this month. Among these are Canada geese, mallards, bald eagles, mourning doves and American robins.

·         For many rural residents, the return of the yellow-bellied sapsucker is hard to miss. This migratory woodpecker loves to hammer on resonant objects such as stovepipes to advertise ownership of territory and to attract a mate.

·         If the weather is mild, local wetlands come alive in early April with the clamorous calls of countless frogs. The first voice usually heard is that of the chorus frog. Within a few days, wood frogs, spring peepers, and leopard frogs add their voices to the symphony. To learn amphibian calls, go to naturewatch.ca. In the menu at the top of the page, click on FrogWatch, then “How-to Guide”, followed by “Identifying Frogs”.

·         Hepaticas are usually the first woodland wildflowers to bloom in the spring. The flowers can be pink, white or bluish in colour. The Stoney Lake Trails are a great place to see this species and many others. Park at 105 Reid’s Road.

·         The courtship flight of the American woodcock provides nightly entertainment in damp, open field habitats such as fields at the Trent Wildlife Sanctuary.

American Woodcock – Karl Egressy

May

·         A variety of interesting butterflies is already on the wing as May begins. These include the Compton tortoiseshell, the eastern comma and the mourning cloak. Try walking the new, 1.5 kilometre interpretive trail in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, which was established by Ontario Parks with the help of the Buckhorn Trails Association. The trailhead is at the parking lot/boat landing off County Road 36, just north of Buckhorn. It provides an excellent example of The Land Between ecoregion.

·         The yellow-gold flowers of marsh marigolds brighten wet habitats in early May. Later, white trilliums blanket woodlots throughout the Kawarthas. A closer look will reveal numerous other wildflowers, too, like yellow trout Lily. Ties Mountain Road north of Nogies Creek provides a great wildflower display.

·         The first ruby-throated hummingbirds usually return on about May 5, so be sure to have your feeders ready to greet them. Keep your sunflower feeders well-stocked, too, since rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings may just pay you a visit.

·         The long, fluid trills of the American toad can be heard day and night. They are one of the most characteristic sounds of early May. Later in the month, gray treefrogs serenade us with their slow, bird-like musical trills.

·         Watch for native solitary bees in your garden and yard. Some common species include sweat, mason, carpenter and orchard bees. The Peterborough Pollinators calendar will help you identify these tiny pollinators.

Peterborough Pollinator’s 2017 calendar is a great garden resource – Ben Wolfe

·         If you’re looking for pollinator plants for your garden, don’t miss the Peterborough Horticultural Society Plant Sale on May 13 at Westdale United Church (9 a.m. to noon) and the GreenUp Ecology Park sale on May 21 (noon to 4 p.m.)

·         Mid-May is the peak of songbird migration with the greatest numbers of warblers, vireos, thrushes, orioles, flycatchers and other neo-tropical migrants passing through. Mild, damp mornings usually provide the best viewing conditions. Beavermead and Ecology Park can often be quite productive.

·         Wild columbine blooms in late May on rocky hillsides and along roads and trails. The flowers, a beautiful blend of red and yellow, hang in bell-like fashion and are often visited by hummingbirds. The Nanabush Trail at Petroglyphs Provincial Park is worth checking out for late spring wildflowers, including pink lady’s slipper orchids.

·         The showy, yellow and black Canadian tiger swallowtail butterfly appears by month’s end and adds an exotic touch to our gardens.

June

·         In downtown Peterborough and Lakefield, Chimney swifts are putting on quite a show. Pairs can be seen in courtship flight as they raise their wings and glide in a V position.

Chimney Swift (Wikimedia)

·         Painted and snapping turtles are often seen along roadsides and rail-trails laying their eggs. Please slow down in turtle-crossing zones and, if it is safe, help the reptile across the road.

·         The first monarch butterflies are usually seen in June. Make sure you have some milkweed in your garden on which they can lay their eggs.

·         The summer solstice occurs on June 21 at 12:24 AM. The sun will rise and set farther north than on any other day of the year. Celebrate this profound celestial event with your family.

Mar 072017
 

We’re relatively less worried than we were in 2007 and our beliefs split sharply along political lines.

By Robson Fletcher, CBC News – Posted: Mar 05, 2017

According to the latest evidence, Earth is hotter now than it has been in any of our lifetimes but Canadians are less concerned about climate change than they were a decade ago. NASA says the last three years have each been the three hottest on record, and 16 of the 17 warmest years have occurred this century, according to the World Meteorological Organization. This winter, we’ve witnessed Arctic sea ice dwindle to record lows. Yet, climate concern reached its “pinnacle” in Canada — outpacing all other worries, including the economy — around 2007 and has since waned, said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research.

Economic anxieties came back to the fore in the wake of the “Great Recession” and continue to dominate, but that’s not to say climate worries have disappeared. They still rank near the top of the list for most Canadians, although views on the topic vary widely. People in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Graves said, are two to three times more likely than those in the rest of Canada to be skeptical of man-made climate change. But an even bigger division can be found — nationwide — along political lines. More than half of Conservative supporters have consistently said they “don’t believe all this talk about greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change” in EKOS polling. Outside the Conservative base, only about one in 10 Canadians say the same thing. “(Conservatives) are literally five times as likely to be on what we maybe call politely the enviro-skeptic — or, maybe less politely, the climate-change denier — side of the equation,” Graves said.

EKOS climate poll by political affiliation – March 2017

Continue reading

 

Mar 042017
 

Warm weather that arrives too soon can harm birds, trees — and people
By Nicole Mortillaro, CBC News Posted: Mar 03, 2017   LINK TO ARTICLE HERE

Mounting evidence suggests spring is occurring earlier as a result of climate change. While that may sound like good news, the truth is, it can wreak havoc on our environment. While colder temperatures are making their way into some parts of Canada this week, warm weather swept across most of the country in February. By the end of the month, several cities had seen warmer than usual temperatures, some in the extreme. In Calgary, the temperature rose to 16.4 C on Feb. 16. In Toronto, where temperatures at time of year should be around 1 C, 15 out of 28 days were above normal, with a record of 17.7 C set on Feb. 23.That warm weather travelled east, and parts of Nova Scotia saw temperatures in the double digits. While there are a few chilly days ahead, temperatures in cities like Toronto, Montreal and Halifax are all expected to climb at least 4 C above normal within the week. A few days of warmer than usual temperatures occur frequently, but it’s the trend that is most concerning.

The U.S. National Phenology Network, which studies seasonal and natural changes, has found that this year, leaves are appearing about 20 days early in many parts of the southeastern U.S. stretching north into Ohio.Jake Weltzin, an ecologist and the executive director of the network, says that in the east and west — in the U.S. and Canada — “there is definitely a trend towards earlier spring, although there’s some spatial variation … and a stronger effect the further north you go.” David Phillips, Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, said this is occurring straight across the country.”We know that the winter and spring periods are showing the greatest change of temperatures since the 1940s,” he said.

The birds and the buds

The warmer weather provides signals to species far and wide. Insects emerge. Buds appear on trees. Birds begin to breed. But if this process begins earlier than normal, it can throw off the whole ecosystem.Take birds, for example. Birds that migrate short distances are able to respond to a signal that indicates warmer weather at their breeding site.However, those that have wintered thousands of kilometres away are unable to respond. They rely on longer days as their signal. One bird in particular, the wood thrush, arrives on almost the same date each year.Kevin Fraser, assistant professor at the Avian Behaviour and Conservation Lab at the University of Manitoba, studies the migration patterns of birds.”When birds arrive late, and they’re mismatched with the peak productivity, they produce fewer young, and that actually is correlated in population declines,” Fraser said. It’s these birds that are facing the biggest challenges caused by climate change.Kevin Fraser has tracked purple martins migrating between the Amazon basin and Canada. The species is showing an unfavourable response to earlier springs. (Nanette Mickle) The purple martin, for instance, which Fraser studies, migrates thousands of kilometres from Canada to the Amazon basin.

“We know that long-distance migratory birds are declining more steeply than any other kind of bird,” Fraser said. The decline varies between one and three per cent annually. Interestingly, birds have been seen to respond to cooler weather by halting their migration or even retreating.”My concern is that long-distance migrants aren’t going to have the flexibility and plasticity that they need to respond to the rapid rate of environmental change that we have,” Fraser said.”Particularly with our springs; with earlier and warmer springs, we have birds that are trying to cue to this from great distances away and don’t seem to be keeping up with the pace of climate change.”

Long-term consequences

Earlier springs also greatly affect the ground, the consequences of which can carry on far past the season. Earlier snowmelt means the ground may dry out earlier, which can be particularly problematic to farmers, who may not receive enough precipitation to account for the loss. That can raise prices at the grocery store. Not only that, unseasonable temperatures can affect the quality of foods, even the beloved Canadian maple syrup.Phillips said if warm weather starts earlier, too much maple syrup can be collected. It can’t be processed quickly enough, and the quality can suffer.As well, maple syrup production in trees relies on a thaw-freeze cycle that warmer weather can break.’People are worried about agricultural production, crop production, with the change in climate.’ — Ecologist Jake WeltzinOverall, there is a concern about what warmer winters and earlier springs can mean to farmers.

Then there are fire concerns. Persistent dry conditions greatly increase the fire risk, as was demonstrated in Fort McMurray last year. The drier winter and early spring helped create a type of tinder box that resulted in the rapid spread of flames throughout the city.

Winners and losers

Phillips said that while we may enjoy hitting that patio a week or two earlier, there are consequences we might want to consider, such as allergies. People allergic to pollen may begin to feel their symptoms earlier or could see their runny noses and watery eyes stick around for longer. Some argue there are positives to earlier springs: some farmers may have longer growing seasons or may be able to grow new crops. We may see songbirds that are usually found farther south. And, of course, there may be more weekends at the cottage. However, each of those positives could also have a negative consequence. New birds might push out native birds, for example. The scourge of spring and summer — mosquitoes and blackflies — might arrive earlier and stick around longer.Already there have been more cases of Lyme disease seen farther north than normal, such as in Newfoundland and Labrador.Not all the consequences of climate change are known, but they will come.”Part of it is the sad story of seeing who are going to be the climate change winners and who are going to be the climate change losers,” Fraser said.

Jan 282017
 

Whether doctor or meteorologist, when we fail to look at the systemic causes of the immediate problems in front of us, we are guilty of malpractice.

By Richard J Jackson
The Daily Climate    LINK TO ARTICLE
Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from a speech Dr. Richard Jackson gave at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting on Jan. 23.

SEATTLE—At the core of medical and of public health training, we learn that you cannot just look narrowly at the problem in front of you, you are obliged to look for the systemic causes, how did the patient get into this state and what are the challenges going forward? Failing to do so is malpractice.

If an internist were to see a patient who is elderly and very overweight, and who came in complaining of a sore on her foot, one that wasn’t healing, and that internist merely prescribed an ointment and failed to address the very real likelihood that this patient has vascular disease and diabetes, and was in grave danger of gangrene and amputation, in that case an objective party would review this failure as medical malpractice.

It is not enough for the doctor to know a lot of science. It is equally important that the person who is put between the scientific world and the human being must show true diligence.
It is not enough for the doctor to know a lot of science. It is equally important that the person who is put between the scientific world and the human being must show true diligence.

I will assert the same is true for meteorologists, who are clinical practitioners. They are face-to-face, at least electronically, with the father getting his children ready for school, the farmer working out her planting and harvest schedule, the pilot and air traffic controller, or the mayor struggling with the decision about whether to require a full scale evacuation. You not only save lives, you save livelihoods.

Everyone wants to hear what meteorologists have to say. Much of the time they’re the only ones worth watching on television. We need them to be technically proficient, but we also need big picture thinkers who forecast, as the navy admirals do, way out beyond the bow.

I started my career as a pediatrician and then an epidemiologist focused on environmental hazards. Two decades ago I took the position as Director of the National Center for Environmental Health at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, arguably the highest public health and environment position in the United States. I was overseeing service programs like the childhood lead poisoning prevention, epidemic investigation of cancer and birth defect clusters, measurement of chemical levels in the American people.

During my first year at CDC, I assigned four epidemiologists to Chicago because of a serious heat wave. That investigation documented over 700 deaths. We learned much about the danger of social isolation, the effects of mental illness and poverty interfaced with climate disaster, and the importance of air-conditioning and the need for better designed buildings and places of refuge.

While at CDC I learned a great deal about climate change, especially from my colleagues at US EPA, NOAA, NCAR and others. I also learned from the doctors working in our refugee and international health group. I had underestimated the dreadful suffering that comes when 50,000 or 100,000 people are forced to move because of war or disaster. Look at the horrific suffering caused by the movement of a half million people from Syria.

Serious scientists and public health leaders, and Pentagon leaders, are gravely concerned about climate change. We fear that the violent storms, floods, droughts, sea level rise and loss of agriculture associated with climate change will cause migrations hundreds of times larger than the displacement from Syria.

An important aspect of this is that I really want to acknowledge and to thank meteorologists for very important work and outreach informing the public about weather threats. I would assert that both physicians and meteorologists are in a daunting and sacred position between people and the world of science.

In meteorology the systemic disorder is climate heating as a result of climate forcing gases. I worry deeply about the future of my country, about environment and health, about our economy and about our security threats. Some will likely say that it is not meteorologists’ job to report on longer-term and global threats, such as climate. In response here’s a medical story.

We struggled to deal only with individual cases, but we did not have a robust culture of alertness and intervention. After a series of tragic failures to identify children who were obviously victims of abuse, many of the states enacted laws that required that clinicians who “know or suspect” that a child is a victim of abuse, must report this to appropriate authorities within 24 hours. During my training this was drummed into us, but I naïvely thought that this was something pretty remote, that was in the newspaper, and that I would rarely see this.

I soon learned often and painfully that I was wrong. I was a skinny young red-haired pediatrician with lots of academic knowledge, but with limited practical experience. One evening while working in the emergency room at a busy city hospital, my next patient was a 10-year-old boy who clearly had been beaten. There were fist marks on his face and bruises on his body, but I was told that he had just taken a fall. I did a full exam looking for neurological symptoms, broken bones, blood in the urine and more, but the words “know or suspect child abuse?” echoed in the back of my mind. I decided to make the legal report and I called the social worker who helped me do the paper work.

I subsequently learned that the child was from a prominent family, and the son of a judge. The following day when I reported back to work at the emergency room, a burly man confronted me. He said he was the family’s private pediatrician. His face was red with anger and only six inches from mine. He began to berate me saying “No one calls for a child abuse investigation on one of my families. What you did was wrong. I’m going to have you fired.”

I wasn’t prepared for this, kept quiet for a bit, and then said: “Doctor, I can show you the law, it says: if we know or suspect child abuse, we are obliged to report. I could be liable for felony neglect if I failed to do so.” He did complain to the hospital administration, but after that I never heard another word from him.

I wonder if meteorologists are not in a similar role. Fellow citizens need meteorologists to keep them safe. When we fail to look at the systemic causes of the immediate problems in front of us, we are guilty of malpractice.

When we fail to identify threats to our children and grandchildren, we are guilty of child neglect, and in some cases child abuse. Just as with child abuse, when there is a grave threat, we need to speak with courage even when we don’t have absolute proof. That can be decided later.

Will our grandchildren, and all grandchildren, berate us: “you should have known we were in grave danger; why didn’t you act in time to protect us?”

Dr. Richard J Jackson is an author, and professor and researcher of environmental health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. He is the former director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. 

Dec 302016
 

By Brian Kahn at CLIMATE CENTRAL  –  Published: December 28th, 2016
This year is likely to remembered as a turning point for climate change. It’s the year the impacts of rising carbon pollution became impossible to ignore. The world is overheating and vast swaths of the planet have suffered the consequences. At the same time, it’s also a year where world leaders crafted and agreed on a number of plans to try to turn the tide of carbon pollution and move toward a clean energy future. It’s clear 2016 was a year where planetary peril and human hope stood out in stark contrast. Here are the 10 most important climate milestones of the year.

The world struck an airline carbon pollution deal

The friendly skies got slightly friendlier. Air travel counts for about 7 percent of carbon emissions globally. That number will need to come down in the coming decades, and the International Civil Aviation Organization, the world’s governing body for airlines, put a plan in place to start that transition. The plan, which was signed off on by 191 countries, is focused on letting airlines buy credits that will help fund renewable energy projects to offset airplane emissions. It isn’t a perfect solution since it doesn’t directly reduce carbon pollution from air travel, but it’s a first step for an industry that will have to find novel, carbon-free ways to produce the fuel needed to fly you home for Christmas vacation.

An extremely potent greenhouse gas is also on its way out

Hydrofluorocarbons are the chemicals in your air conditioner that help keep you cool in the summer (and the food in your refrigerator cool year round). Ironically, they’re also a greenhouse gas that’s thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. Reducing them is critical to keep the planet from heating up much more and in October, international negotiators struck a deal to do phase out hydrofluorocarbons. Countries still have to ratify the agreement — and it could face a major roadblock in the U.S. Senate — in order for it to take effect, but if approved, it will provide strong targets and a timetable to find replacement chemicals to keep you cool in a warming world.

July was the hottest month ever recorded. Then August tied it

The Arctic had a crazy heat wave this winter, but the planet as a whole really roasted through July and August. The summer is usually the warmest time of the year by dint of the fact that there’s more land in the northern hemisphere. But this summer was something else. July was the hottest month ever recorded, and it was followed by an August — usually a bit cooler than July — that was just as scorching. Those epically hot months helped set this year up for record heat (but more on that in a bit).

Arctic sea ice got weird. Really weird

The Arctic was probably the weirdest place on the planet this year. It had a record-low peak for sea ice in the winter and dwindled to its second-lowest extent on record. The Northwest Passage also opened in August, allowing a luxury cruise ship to pass through. Those milestones themselves are a disconcerting harbinger of a warming world, but November brought an even more bizarre event. Normally it’s a time when night blankets the region and temperatures generally plummet to allow the rapid growth of ice. But a veritable heat wave ratcheted temperatures 27°F above normal in November, hitting pause on ice growth and even causing ice loss for a few days. December has seen a similar warm spell that scientists have found would be virtually impossible if it wasn’t for climate change. The Arctic is the most rapidly warming region on the planet and 2016 served as a reminder that the region is being dramatically reshaped by that warming.

Divestment and clean energy investments each hit a record

Climate change is a huge, pressing economic issue as countries will have to rejigger their economies to run on renewables and not fossil fuels. Investors are attacking that switch at both ends, and 2016 stands out for the record pace at which they’re doing it. On the fossil fuel side, investors representing $5.2 trillion in assets have agreed to divest from fossil fuels. That includes massive financial firms, pension funds, cities and regional governments, and a host of wealthy individuals. Not bad for a movement that only got its start in 2011. On the flip side, a report showed that investors poured $288 billion into new renewable projects in 2015, also a record. That’s helping install 500,000 solar panels a day around the world and ensuring that 70 percent of all money invested into energy generation is going to renewables.

The Great Barrier Reef was decimated by warm waters

Coral has had a rough go of it around the world for the past three years. El Niño coupled with climate change has caused a massive coral bleaching event around the globe. Nowhere have the impacts been more stark than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Up to 93 percent of the reef was rocked by coral bleaching as record-warm waters essentially boiled coral to death. A third of the reef — including some of the most protected areas — are now dead. Researchers found that climate change made the record heat up to 175 times more likely, offering a glimpse into the dystopian future reefs face. A 1.5°C rise in the global average temperature would essentially mean game over for corals around the world.

The world breached the 1.5°C climate threshold

So about 1.5°C. It’s a threshold that’s crucial for low-lying island states to continue their existence (to say nothing of Miami or other coastal cities). Passing it would mean essentially issuing a death sentence for these places, corals and Arctic sea ice and other places around the world. The globe got its first glimpse of 1.5°C in February and March this year. Climate change, riding on the back of a super El Niño, helped crank the global average temperature to 1.63°C above normal in February and 1.54°C above normal in March compared to pre-industrial times. While the abnormal heat has since subsided a bit, it’s likely that 1.5°C will be breached again and again in the coming years and could become normal by 2025-30.

Carbon dioxide hit 400 ppm. Permanently

Scientists measure carbon dioxide in parts per million and in 2016, and it hit a not-so-nice round number at the Earth’s marquee carbon observatory: 400 ppm. Despite the seasonal ebb and flow, there wasn’t a single week where carbon dioxide levels dipped below 400 ppm. It’s the first time on record that’s happened. Because carbon pollution continues to rise, the world isn’t going to see carbon dioxide dip below 400 ppm again in our lifetimes (and likely a lot longer than that). Carbon dioxide also breached the 400 ppm threshold in Antarctica, the first time that’s happened in human history (and likely a lot longer). And in a report that was published this year, the World Meteorological Organization revealed that carbon dioxide passed the 400 ppm milestone globally in 2015. So yeah, 400 ppm was kind of a thing this year.

The Paris Agreement got real

The world got together to deliver the Paris Agreement in 2015, but the rubber really hit the road in 2016. Nearly 120 countries have ratified the agreement, putting it into force on Nov. 4. That includes big carbon pollution emitters like China, the U.S. and the European Union, and tiny ones like Mongolia, the Cook Islands and Sierra Leone. While there’s concern that President-elect Trump could pull the U.S. out of the agreement, signatories have stressed that they’ll go forward to meet their pledges regardless. With the rubber on the road, the next step is to get the wheels spinning.

It was the hottest year on record. Again

In case it wasn’t clear, the clearest sign of climate change is heat. And this year had lots of it. Hot Arctic, hot summer, hot water, and so it’s only fitting that the biggest climate milestone of the year (in a year that itself is a milestone) is record heat. Of course, that was the biggest story in 2014. And 2015 for that matter. This year marks the third year in a row of record-setting heat, an unprecedented run. It’s a reminder that we’ve entered a new era, where our actions have changed the world we call home. We also have the ability to decide what comes next.

 

Sep 152016
 

Looking back at the summer of 2016, two words come immediately come to mind: drought and heat. August was a whopping 3.7 C warmer than the 1971-2000 average, while as of this week, September is about 3 C above normal temperatures. As for precipitation, July only saw one-third of normal rainfall. Precipitation was heavier in August but still only about half of what our region usually receives.

Drought - August 2016 - Drew-Monkman

Drought – August 2016 – Drew-Monkman

The combination of drought and intense heat was hard on our flora and fauna. Entire fields turned a ubiquitous brown, which meant that butterflies struggled to find nectar and healthy plants to lay eggs on. Monarchs may have been especially hard hit as only a handful of sightings were reported over most of the summer. Numbers have increased somewhat in recent weeks, however. On September 5, for example, I had three monarchs visiting my garden together. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, the continent-wide data to this point suggest that this year will be a repeat of 2014 with a significant decline in both migration and overwintering numbers.

The drought has also resulted in a number of trees changing colour and/or shedding leaves much earlier than usual. Oaks growing in the thin soils northern Peterborough County have suffered with many trees turning a sickly shade of brown. Most should be able to recover, however, as long as precipitation levels return to normal this fall and over the coming winter and spring.

The drought has also been hard on birds and other animals as fewer young have been able to survive. A lack of nuts and berries, for example, is proving difficult for bears, which may result in more conflicts with humans as they search for food. Lower water levels and increased water temperatures have been hard on fish, too, especially cold-water species like brook trout. As water levels dropped in wetlands, frogs were more vulnerable to predators such as herons and raccoons, while some turtles were forced to roam widely afield in search of appropriate habitat. It’s likely that many did not survive the journey.

In other news this summer, a new species of butterfly was recorded for Peterborough County. On June 21, Jerry Ball and Ken Morrison found a female pipevine swallowtail on Sandy Lake Road, off Highway 46 north of Havelock. This species is usually restricted to the Carolinian zone of southwestern Ontario. With climate change, more and more butterflies are extending their range northward. The giant swallowtail is a well-known example.

The common loons that nested on the Otonabee River, just north of Lock 25, appear to have been successful in raising their two young. On August 19, Dave Milsom observed and photographed the two juvenile loons with an adult. The young loons were constantly flapping their wings in preparation for their first flight.

There was also encouraging news regarding chimney swifts, a species at risk in Ontario. In a citizen science monitoring program known as Swift Watch, Dan Williams observed 123 swifts entering a chimney behind Wildrock on Charlotte Street. On June 6, Ariel Lenske saw 83 birds fly into the same roost, where they spend the night.

Finally, Loggerhead Marsh, located on Ireland Drive in west-end Peterborough, has just been classified as a provincially significant wetland. This designation normally means that no structures can be built within a 120 m buffer zone bordering the wetland. This is welcome news for such a rich and easily accessible nature-viewing destination.

As the autumn equinox quickly approaches, here is a list of events in nature that are typical of fall in the Kawarthas. If the mild weather continues, however, some events may occur later than usual. Not surprisingly, this has become the norm as climate change tightens its grip.

Late September

  • Fall songbird migration is in full swing. Migrants such as warblers are often in mixed flocks with chickadees and can be coaxed in for close-up views by using “pishing”. To see and hear this birding technique in action, go to http://bit.ly/2cpznE8
  • Broad-winged hawks migrate south over the Kawarthas in mid-September, especially on sunny days with cumulous clouds and northwest winds. Watch for high-altitude “kettles”, which is a group of hawks soaring and circling in the sky. For your best chance of seeing this phenomenon, consider a trip to Cranberry Marsh, located on Halls Road at the Lynde Shores Conservation Area in Whitby. Expert hawk watchers are on hand each day. Thousands of broad-wings pass over this area in mid-month every year.
  • Peterborough Field Naturalists hold their Sunday Morning Nature Walks this month and next. Meet at the Riverview Park and Zoo parking lot at 8 am and bring binoculars. For more information, go to peterboroughnature.org
  • As the goldenrods begin to fade, asters take centre stage. The white flowers of heath and calico asters, along with the purple and mauve blossoms of New England and heart-leaved asters provide much of the show. Visit ontariowildflowers.com for tips on identifying these beautiful but under appreciated plants.

    A Monarch butterfly drinks nectar from a New England Aster - Tim Dyson

    A Monarch butterfly drinks nectar from a New England Aster – Tim Dyson

  • Listen for the constant calling of blue jays and the metronome-like “chuck-chuck…” call of chipmunks. The call is often given in response to danger such as the presence of a hawk. Chipmunk numbers are high this year, partly because of a strong acorn crop last fall, which allowed most of these small squirrels to overwinter successfully and have large litters.

October

  • Fall colours in the Kawarthas usually peak early in the month. However, because of the hot, dry weather this summer, leaf colour is expected to be more muted than usual. County Roads 620 and 504 around Chandos Lake east of Apsley makes for a great colour drive.
  • Sparrow migration takes centre stage, making October one of the busiest times of the year for backyard feeders. Scatter millet or finch mix on the ground to attract dark-eyed juncos and both white-throated and white-crowned sparrows.
  • On October 12, Mike McMurtry, a recently retired ecologist from the Natural Heritage Information Centre, will be speaking to the Peterborough Field Naturalists on “Learning the Plants of the Kawarthas”. The talk will provide tips for identification and conclude with a quiz. The presentation begins at 7:30 pm at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre on Pioneer Road. Everyone is welcome.
  • Fall is a great time to find salamanders. The red-backed, which is almost worm-like in appearance, is usually the most common. Look carefully under flat rocks, old boards, and logs in damp wooded areas and around cottages.

    Red-backed Salamander - Drew Monkman

    Red-backed Salamander – Drew Monkman

  • A tide of yellow spreads across the landscape in mid- through late October. The colour is supplied courtesy of trembling and bigtooth aspens, balsam poplar, silver maple, white birch, and, at month’s end, tamarack.
  • As ducks move southward, consider a visit to the Lakefield sewage lagoons, which are located on County Road 33, just south of Lakefield. Just be careful to avoid blocking the gate when you park. Goldeneye, buffleheads, scaup and mergansers are often present in large numbers. If you have a spotting scope, be sure to take it along.

    Common Goldeneye male - Karl Egressy

    Common Goldeneye male – Karl Egressy

  • If you find a Halloween bat in your house, it is probably a big brown. This species often overwinters in buildings. Little browns, on the other hand, choose caves and abandoned mines as winter quarters. Their population is in a free-fall because of White Nose Syndrome. Big browns are less susceptible to the disease.
  • The first northern finches usually start turning up in late October. To learn which species to expect this fall and winter, Google “winter finch forecast 2016-2017”. The forecast, compiled by Ron Pittaway, is usually available online by early October.

November

  • Oaks, tamaracks and silver maples are about the only native deciduous trees that still retain foliage in early November. The brownish-orange to burgundy leaves of red oaks stand out with particular prominence. At a glance, you can see just how common oaks are in many areas of the Kawarthas.

    Oak leaves - Evolution has made them deeply lobed and leathery. (Drew Monkman)

    Oak leaves – Evolution has made them deeply lobed and leathery. (Drew Monkman)

  • We return to Standard Time on November 5th and turn our clocks back one hour. Sunrise on the 5th is at 7:56 am and sunset at 5:57 pm for a total of only 10 hours of daylight. Compare this to the 15 1/2 hours we enjoyed back in June!
  • The red berries of wetland species like winterberry holly and high-bush cranberry provide some much needed November colour.
  • Most of our loons and robins head south this month. However, small numbers of robins regularly overwinter in the Kawarthas. Their numbers should be particularly high this year, thanks to a plentiful wild grape crop. Grapes are a staple food for winter robins.

    Riverbank (Wild) Grape - Drew Monkman

    Riverbank (Wild) Grape – Drew Monkman

  • Ball-like swellings known as galls are easy to see on the stems of goldenrods. If you open the gall with a knife, you will find the small, white larva of the goldenrod gall fly inside. In the spring, it will emerge as an adult fly.
  • Damp, decomposing leaves on the forest floor scent the November air.
  • With the onset of cold temperatures, wood frogs, gray treefrogs, chorus frogs, and spring peepers take shelter in the leaf litter of the forest floor and literally become small blocks of amphibian ice. Glycerol, acting as an antifreeze, inhibits freezing within the frogs’ cells.

I would like to thank Martin and Kathy Parker, Tim Dyson, Cathy Dueck and Jacob Rodenburg for having done such an admirable job filling in for me this summer. We are fortunate in the Kawarthas to have so many people with extensive knowledge of the natural world.

 

Feb 042016
 

As much as news reports of dying sequoia trees in California, disappearing seabird colonies in Iceland, and lifeless coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean are disturbing, these impacts of climate change are still far-removed from our everyday experience. We, of course, don’t live in these far-flung places; we live in Peterborough or Lakefield, on Chemong Lake, or maybe in the Cavan Hills. For most of us, many of the consequences of a changing climate have yet to be felt personally. However, it’s only a matter of time. The impacts won’t only be on our financial and physical well-being. They will be deeply emotional, as well.

White Pines  at Pioneer Park in Peterborough - Peter Beales

White Pines at Pioneer Park in Peterborough – Peter Beales

A part of our identity and sense of well-being merges with the places we call home, spend our summers, our visit regularly. We feel an emotional connection to the landscapes that surround us, the plants and animals that are our neighbours and the rhythm of the seasons. For those of us of a certain age, we hold fond memories shaped by myriad springs, summers, falls and winters. We have a strong sense of “how this time of year ought to be.” The memory of what the weather was once like is intimately linked to events in our lives. This, in turn, provides a sense of how things are changing. Rather than picking strawberries in early July, we now pick them in June; a birthday which used to coincide with blooming lilacs now lines up with the first primrose; a backyard rink which was once a rite of December is now relegated to mid-winter – or not possible at all.

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome - Wikimedia

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome – Wikimedia

I frequently hear stories about the sadness brought on by the decline of much-loved species or the degradation of cherished habitats that had become part of people’s lives. When this happens, there is often a deep sense of loss, whether it is the result of climate change, urban development, invasive species or any number of other causes. This emotional impact of a degraded natural world goes under-reported but is very real. Here are just a few stories I have heard personally. I would be interested in hearing yours, too.

·         The cottager on Salmon Lake who, for 50 years, enjoyed a daily ritual of sitting on the dock in the evening, a coffee in hand, watching the bats twist and turn as they hunted insects over the lake. The bats are no more, replaced by nostalgia and sadness.

·         The farmer in Ennismore who, since childhood, was kept company every spring and summer by the chatter and coming and going of dozens of swallows nesting in the barn. The barn has turned eerily silent in recent years.

·         The angler who laments the drastic decline in brook trout in local creeks, and how trout fishing in the spring was once such a part of his life.

·         The golfer who mourns the passing of the towering, graceful American elms that were once the signature tree of the Peterborough Golf and Country Club.

·         The Stony Lake cottager who still carries the emotional pain of seeing her giant white pines blown down in a single storm.

·         The Trent student who did intensive research on local bumblebees in the 1980s. When he returned to the same research sites in 2013, he was unable to find any of the bumblebee species that had once been so common. In a letter to the editor of this paper, he wrote, “To me, the woods and glades of beautiful places like Jackson Park now fill me with an aching sense of loss and despair. Little did I know that my thesis studies would be more epitaph than ecology. What have we done?”

Common Eastern Bumble Bee nectaring - by Margot Hughes

Common Eastern Bumble Bee nectaring –  Margot Hughes

These feelings now have a name – solastalgia. It is the pain or anguish caused by the loss of solace from a loved environment because of its degradation. It is being felt all over the world, especially among indigenous peoples. Researchers interviewed 120 native people in Labrador in what is called the Inuit Mental Health Adaptation to Climate Change project. The North Labrador Coast is one of the fastest-warming areas in the world. Wildlife and vegetation patterns have changed, and sea ice  forms later in the fall and breaks up earlier in the spring. People reported sadness and even depression about not being able to travel on the ice to reach hunting grounds as early or late in the year as they used to.

How are scientists feeling?

It is revealing to hear the emotional reaction of climate scientists themselves to a warming world. These people aren’t robots in white lab coats. They are mothers, fathers and grandparents who see the impacts and feel the emotional effects of climate change first-hand. Here are some testimonies taken from a website called isthishowyoufeel.com

·         “I feel frustrated that I cannot even convince those closest to me that we, as a society, are being irresponsible, and that our children and grandchildren will pay the price. Don’t we feel compassion for the life we are signing them up for?” Anna Harper, Research Fellow, University of Exeter

·         “I am a scientist mostly focussed on studying how human activities are destroying coral reefs. On coral reefs, climate change effects are hugely obvious and very depressing. Huge swaths of coral have died due to heat stress, and it will continue unless drastic changes occur.” Dr. Jessica Carilli, UMass, Boston.

·         “How do I feel about climate change? I feel afraid for my grand children and for my family. It  keeps me awake at night. I am frustrated with complacency. Parents who would leap between a bear and a child live in ignorance, confusion, or at best, fear. Leap into the climate debate, mom and dad. Still, I feel excitement that we can fix this. We have the plans, policies and technology. We can have great lives with clean, safe, renewable energy. Please help! Get involved. Demand action on climate at all political levels.” Dr. James Byrne, University of Lethbridge

·         “My overwhelming emotion is anger; anger that is fuelled not so much by ignorance, but by greed and profiteering at the expense of future generations… I am speaking as a father of a seven year-old girl who loves animals and nature in general. As a biologist, I see irrefutable evidence every day that human-driven climate disruption will turn out to be one of the main drivers of the Anthropocene mass extinction event now well under way.” Professor Corey Bradshaw, University of Adelaide

·         “I’m lucky to have been a marine biologist for the last 20 years. I look at my underwater photos of amazing coral reefs, diverse fish and baby turtles hatching and I feel very sad that my son, his friends and their children may never see the amazing things I have seen.” Dr. Jennie Mallela, Australian National University

·         “I will keep doing my work. I will keep shouting in my own little way. I will be optimistic that we will do something about this, collectively. I live in hope that the climate changes on the graphs that I stare into every day won’t be as bad as my data tells me, because we worked together to find a solution. All I can hope is that people share my optimism and convert it into action.” Dr Ailie Gallant, Monash University.

Barn Swallow - Karl Egressy

Barn Swallow – Karl Egressy

Everywhere we look, climate change predictions are being confirmed. If you believe in science – humankind’s best way of discovering what’s true – you have to believe that forecasts for the coming years will prove true, as well. Yes, it’s difficult to think beyond the present moment  and the many worries and stresses of everyday life. However, we can’t put our heads in the sand. Even meeting Canada’s timid commitments under Stephen Harper to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030  will be difficult to achieve. The bottom line is that we will have to accept paying a great deal more for fossil fuels, if we are to usher in an age of renewable energy. At this late date, it’s the only way forward. Let’s encourage our politicians to adopt an aggressive and quickly increasing price on carbon.

 

Jan 232016
 

When I turned on CBC radio Monday morning, the first thing I heard was that the price of gasoline in London had dropped to less than 85 cents a litre. A quick check on ontariogasprices.com showed Costco in Peterborough selling gas at 86.9 cents. The near-universal reaction seems to be one of sheer delight, yet you might think that with all the attention climate change has received in recent months, more people would be expressing unease. In other words, why aren’t more of us connecting the dots and realizing that low gas prices mean more driving and, as we are now seeing, the increased popularity of larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles? The result, of course, is higher greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector accounts for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

Petro Canada fuel pump -Wikimedia

Petro Canada fuel pump -Wikimedia

What’s wrong with the scenario? It’s not as if climate change hasn’t already touched our lives, at least for those paying attention. The outright balmy month of December 2015 was by far the warmest on record across the entire province. The mean temperature in Peterborough was an astounding 7.0 C above the 1981-2010 normal of -4.4 C and 7.9 C above the 1971 – 2000 normal of -5.3 C. This shatters the previous record, set in 2006, which was 4.6 C above normal. Yes, an exceptionally strong El Nino is being blamed, but most climatologists see climate change as setting the stage for El Nino’s intensity.

Whenever I write or Tweet on climate change in the Kawarthas, the amount of feedback I receive is limited. Other than the knee-jerk reaction from a couple of climate change deniers, the comments – or, in the case of Twitter, reTweets – are surprisingly few. As an active member of “For Our Grandchildren”, a local group that organizes events to educate and draw attention to the need for climate action, the attendance at many of our events has been disappointing, especially on the part of younger people. Two exceptions, however, were the excellent turnouts at an all-candidates meeting held during the federal election and a letter-writing event held just before the Paris climate conference.

Temperature anomoly showing cold NE North America on Feb. 16, 2015

Temperature anomoly showing cold NE North America on Feb. 16, 2015

Not a priority

What explains the lack of public engagement? A survey done last September by Dr. Erick Lachapelle, an assistant professor of political science at the Université de Montréal, is instructive. He has been doing similar surveys since 2011 and has found that climate change is not yet a priority issue for Canadians. Some of the key findings include: nearly half of us remain either uninformed or misinformed; a significant minority express uncertainty or doubt about the causes; more than half feel climate change will harm them only a little or not at all, and that it’s more of a problem for future generations; there is little understanding of policy tools like cap & trade; and, although most Canadians want more action on climate change, a majority remain unwilling to pay large sums to reduce emissions and increase the use of renewables. For example, only 14% would be willing to pay $250 or more per year to help the transition to a decarbonized economy. Lachapelle points out that even paying $250 per year is far below what the real cost would be. The take-away message seems to be “someone else should pay”.

Why the ambivalence?

In an interview on CBC Radio’s “Quirks and Quarks” (Dec. 12, 2015), Dr. Lachapelle was asked to explain these findings. He pointed out that climate change is a complicated, technical problem that requires a lot of motivation and time to be truly informed. Media coverage until recently has been sporadic (we rarely even hear about it on weather reports!), and for 10 years the Harper government never signalled to Canadians that climate change is an important issue. Lachapelle went on to say that humans tend to base their opinions on personal experience and are wired for short-term, immediate risks. Despite some glaring weather extremes like this past December, the winters of 2014 and 2015, and March 2012, most of us aren’t yet seeing huge changes in our day to day experience of the climate. It’s therefore easy to ignore risks in the future. Lachapelle added that once we accept the fact that humans are the primary cause of rising temperatures, the onus is on us to do something about the problem. Many people are unwilling to take this next step and to support paying the required costs.

Opossum on Johnston Drive, south of Peterborough - Mary Beth Aspinall - Feb. 2014

Opossum on Johnston Drive, south of Peterborough – Mary Beth Aspinall – Feb. 2014

To this list, I would add that humans are very susceptible to “shifting baseline syndrome”. When change happens gradually – as in the case of a changing climate – we hardly notice it. Because of our general disconnection from nature, many of us lack clear reference points as to how things used to be. This leads to an acceptance of degraded natural ecosystems and strange weather patterns as somehow “normal”. Very few of us are aware of the “canary in the coal mine” changes that are already occurring in the Kawarthas. We are already seeing changes in the dates of events (e.g., earlier flowering of plants, earlier return of some spring migrants); the arrival of warm-climate species from the south (e.g., opossum, giant swallowtail butterfly); more rapid growth and range expansion of plants that thrive on higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (e.g., poison ivy, ragweed, dog-strangling vine); and a pattern of more extreme weather events.

Christmas eve 2015 on Maple Crescent, Peterborough - Drew Monkman

Christmas Eve 2015 on Maple Crescent, Peterborough – Drew Monkman

What now?

How do we get past this ambivalence? More information about the causes will only take us so far. People filter information through their personal worldview and will interpret the same scientific findings differently in order to make it fit with how they think. For instance, accepting that climate change is a significant problem implies that government will have to play a greater role in solving the problem (i.e., take more of our money and establish more rules and regulations). People who are against greater government involvement in our lives are therefore likely to downplay scientific findings or even extreme weather. “I remember other green, mild Christmases. This isn’t anything abnormal,” is the kind of comment I heard a lot this holiday season.

Asked what can be done to make Canadians more attentive to this issue, Lachapelle highlighted the importance of framing climate change as something that is already affecting public health and security. He also talked about communicating and demonstrating the economic opportunities that will be created by transitioning away from a carbon-based economy. “I think this is an area where we need governments to lead and once it’s on the agenda… people will follow. We may be getting this leadership now, but only time will tell.”

Renewable energy: Wind turbines in St. Joseph, Manitoba - Wikimedia

Renewable energy: Wind turbines in St. Joseph, Manitoba – Wikimedia

When it comes to the health impacts of climate change, emotional distress is going to become a huge problem as we are forced to cope emotionally and financially with more extreme weather. There will also be a loss of sense of place as valued natural environments – the lake and landscape around the family cottage, for example – are degraded, much-loved species disappear and seasonal rituals like a backyard rink become a thing of the past. More about this in my next column. For now, let’s try to be a bit less jubilant about those low gas prices.

 

Jan 162016
 

Inside the Paris Climate Agreement: Hope or Hype? 

By Brian Tokar (Dec. 30, 2015)

It has become a predictable pattern at the annual UN climate conferences for participants to describe the outcome in widely divergent ways. This was first apparent after the high-profile Copenhagen conference in 2009, when a four-page non-agreement was praised by diplomats, but denounced by well-known critics as a “sham,” a “farce,” and a mere face-saver. UN insiders proclaimed the divisive 2013 Warsaw climate conference a success, even though global South delegates and most civil society observers had staged an angry walk-out a day prior to its scheduled conclusion.

So it was no surprise when this happened again on December 12th in Paris. Francois Hollande praised the Paris Agreement as “ambitious,” “binding,” and “universal.” Ban Ki-moon said it ushers in a “new era of global cooperation,” and UN climate convention executive secretary Christiana Figueres described it as “an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable.” Barack Obama waxed triumphant and proclaimed the outcome a testament to American leadership in diplomacy and technology.

Source: CounterPunch  Continue reading

Dec 262015
 

At the pussy willow patch on Xmas eve, I spotted four or five emerging pussy willows way high up in the bushes and saw a dead American Toad on Route 100 in N. Russell. It was a very large one. Lots of blooming dandelions in North Russell (in addition to those spotted earlier in Dec.). And, interestingly, spinach and lettuce coming up in my garden. Actually picked a few tiny bits to add to salad–it’s tough and bitter but so cool that I’m eating fresh out of the garden on Xmas. I’m concerned about the sizes of the some of the buds on trees–including silver, red and sugar maples, and elderberry.I also saw tens of thousands of Snow Geese, American Toad singingwith a few Canada Geese mixed in, at the N. Russell Quarry Lake on Xmas Eve.   Candice Vetter

As I was leaving home yesterday morning, I heard an American Robin constantly singing as if on territory looking for a mate. Very odd for December 25th.  Bruce Ripley, Amherstview, ON

Took a walk along the back field of the Glenhaven cemetary in Glenburnie this afternoon with the dog, saw a whole bunch of yellow dandelion flowers in the mowed grass along the edge of field and road. Most were closed up, about 10 were open. I stopped counting at 72. I looked to see if anything else were blooming, but didn’t find any other species.  Rose-Marie Behr

Spring Peepers were calling intermittently after 10:00 pm on 23 December in the Downers Corners Wetland, Peterborough.  Eric Snyder

Winter robin (Liane Edwards)

Winter robin (Liane Edwards)

Dandelions

Dandelions

Spring Peeper - John Urquhart

Spring Peeper – John Urquhart

Dec 242015
 

Although winter’s official start was three days ago, you certainly wouldn’t know it. Peterborough has experienced unprecedented warmth this month with temperatures averaging an amazing 9 C above normal. (Note: December ended up being 7.8 C above normal – the warmest ever recorded for Peterborough and the Kawarthas.) Not surprisingly, many plants and animals don’t seem to know it’s winter, either. Skunks and raccoons, which usually sleep  most of the winter, remain active; moths, ladybugs, midges, mosquitoes, and woolly bear caterpillars can still be found; ducks that are usually long gone by now continue to linger; and I’ve even come across the odd dandelion, yarrow and goldenrod in bloom. There was also a report from eastern Ontario of a wild turkey nest full of eggs. Unseasonably warm weather is also occurring across the United Kingdom where daffodils are blooming as far north as Northern Ireland. In fact, December temperatures in London have been warmer than July’s.

The question, of course, is why this is happening. According to Dave Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada, an exceptionally strong El Nino is mostly to blame. Speaking to CHEX TV, Phillips said, “Water (in the Pacific Ocean) has to be a half-degree warmer than usual for several months to be declared an El Nino. Right now, it is 3.1 degrees warmer than normal. It’s a hot tub!” Axel Timmerman of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu predicts that this year’s El Niño will only grow in intensity, likely becoming the strongest ever.That energy has to go somewhere, and during an El Niño winter it spreads warmth and humidity eastward. Monsoons and trade winds are also disrupted, which causes severe storms, droughts, floods and food shortages like those that Africa is now facing. Many scientists are convinced that climate change, too, is playing a role in setting the larger stage for such a strong El Nino.

Christmas Eve 2015 - Drew Monkman

Christmas Eve 2015 – Drew Monkman

Despite all, Environment Canada assures us that colder weather will eventually arrive. As a reminder of what to watch for in nature, here are some mileposts of the winter months.  If the warmth and lack of snow continue, however, abnormal occurrences such as those we’ve been seeing are certain to persist. Who knows? Tulips in February?

JANUARY

·          In the first week of January, sunrise is later than at any other time of the year. In fact, the sun doesn’t peak over the horizon until 7:49 a.m. Compare this to June 20 when the sun rises at 5:29 a.m.

·         Watch for ruffed grouse at dawn and dusk along tree-lined country roads. The birds often appear in silhouette as they feed on buds such as those of trembling aspen.

·         Small numbers of common goldeneyes and common mergansers can be seen all winter long on the Otonabee River, at Young’s Point and at Gannon Narrows.

·         White-tailed deer shed their antlers between late-December and early March. Antlers are temporary projections of bone, which are grown and discarded each year.

·         Coyotes are quite vocal during their January to March mating season. The young are born 60-63 days later, usually in a ground den.

Eastern Coyote on Otonabee River - Tom Northey.

Eastern Coyote on Otonabee River – Tom Northey.

·         Bass lie dormant under logs, weeds or rocks until the light and warmth of spring restore their energy and appetite.

·         If you’re walking in the woods, you’ll notice that some of the smaller trees have retained many of their leaves. These are usually beech, oak, or ironwood.

·         Honeybees are the only insects to maintain an elevated body temperature all winter. They accomplish this by clustering together in a thick ball within the hive, vibrating their wings to provide heat and eating stored honey for the necessary energy.

·         Barred owls sometimes show up in rural backyards and prey on feeder birds or mice and voles that attracted at night by fallen seeds.

Northern Barred Owl - Tim Dyson - NBR - 051214

Northern Barred Owl – Tim Dyson – NBR – 051214

·         The cones of red and white pine drop to the ground all winter long. The seeds, however, were released in the fall.

·         In late January, black bears give birth to cubs no larger than chipmunks. Generally, two cubs are born, although there are sometimes as many as four or five.

FEBRUARY

·         We begin the month with about 9 ¾ hours of daylight and end with 11, a gain of about 75 minutes. The lengthening days are most notable in the afternoon.

·         Groundhog Day, February 2, marks the mid-point of winter. However, our groundhogs won’t see their shadow – or light of day, for that matter – until mid-March at the earliest. In case you were wondering, no animal or plant behaviour can portend upcoming weather beyond a few hours.

·         Although tentative at first, bird song returns in February as pair bonds are established or renewed. Black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, and white-breasted nuthatches are several of the birds that usually start singing this month.

·         Gray squirrels mate in January or February and can often be seen streaming by in treetop chases as a group of males chases a half-terrorized female. Amazing acrobatics are usually part of the show.

·         Lake trout eggs hatch in February but the fry remain in the lake bottom for about six weeks and survive on energy stored in their yolk sac.

·         The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place February 12-15. This citizen science event engages bird watchers of all levels of expertise to create a real-time snapshot of the whereabouts and relative abundance of birds in mid-winter. Anyone can participate. Go to www.birdcount.org for details.

Common Redpoll - male - Tim Dyson

Male Common Redpoll – a species often recorded on the Great Backyard Bird Count – Tim Dyson

·         Watch for river otters in winter around areas of flowing water. Their trough-like, snow-slide trails are often seen on embankments or even flat ground.

·         Late February is courtship time for ravens. Males engage in aerial nuptial displays, diving and twisting like corkscrews over Canadian Shield country.

·         The male common goldeneye puts on an elaborate courtship display in late winter. He thrusts his head forward and then moves it back towards his rump. With his bill pointing skyward, he utters a squeaky call.

·         On mild, sunny, late winter days, check the snow along the edge of woodland trails for snow fleas. What looks like spilled pepper may begin to jump around right before your eyes!

·         Testosterone-charged male skunks roll out of their dens any time from mid-February to early March and go on nocturnal prowls looking for females. The smell of a skunk on a damp, late winter night is a time-honoured sign of “pre-spring.”

·         By month’s end, spring has sprung for overwintering monarchs in the mountains of Mexico. As lengthening days trigger the final development of the butterflies’ reproductive system, male monarchs begin zealously courting females. In December, the monarch population was estimated to be four times larger than last year’s. Great news!

 

MARCH

·          Duck numbers increase as buffleheads and hooded mergansers start arriving.

Male Hooded Merganser (Karl Egressy)

Male Hooded Merganser (Karl Egressy)

·         House sparrows are already laying claim to nest boxes. The male will often perch on the box and call repeatedly to claim real estate and attract a mate.

·         Chipmunks make their first appearance above ground since late fall. They did remain somewhat active all winter, however, making repeated trips to their underground storehouses for food.

·         The buds of lilac, red-berried elder, red maple, and silver maple swell this month and are much more noticeable.

·         The furry catkins of pussy willows and aspens poke through bud scales and become a time-honoured sign of spring’s imminent arrival.

·         By mid-March, the first northward-bound turkey vultures are usually seen. Each year, a particularly reliable group of these birds lingers for a week or more in the west end of Peterborough.

·         The first songbirds, too, usually return by mid-month. In the city, the most notable new arrivals are robins and grackles. In rural areas, watch for red-winged blackbirds perched high in wetland trees.

·         For anyone paying attention, the increase in bird song is hard to miss. If you don’t already know the voices of common songsters, this is a great time to start learning them. Go to allaboutbirds.org, enter the name of the species, and click on the Sound tab.

·         The spring equinox occurs on March 20 as the sun shines directly on the equator. Both the moon and sun rise due east and set due west. Day and night are nearly equal in duration. For the next six months, we can enjoy days that are longer than nights.

 

Dec 242015
 

From the ‘Have we screwed this planet up or what!’ department

On Christmas Eve day at about 11:00am Margo and I watched a frog cross the highway in front of us on County Road 28 near Fraserville. It appeared to have dodged a stream of vehicles or is squished into the treads of a snow tire. We couldn’t find a body so no species id.

I suspect folks are reporting lots of other weird things given this mild weather.

Al Sippel & Margo Tant

 

Dec 132015
 

Source: Craig Welch, National Geographic, PUBLISHED

The world came together. More than 20 years after world leaders first tried hammering out an accord to tackle climate change, representatives of 195 nations on Saturday adopted a landmark agreement that seeks to scale back greenhouse gases and trigger a momentous shift away from coal, oil, and natural gas. “It’s rare to have an opportunity in a lifetime to change the world,” French President Francois Hollande told the delegates Saturday, before the final decision came at about 7:30 p.m. (Central European Time). After the agreement was reached, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared, “What was once unthinkable, is now unstoppable.”

Two weeks of marathon deal-making, which started with high hopes, ended with a surprisingly ambitious pact. Its 31 pages commit wealthier nations to provide billions of dollars to poor countries to battle rising seas and extreme weather, and called on every nation to begin a rapid transition toward clean energy. It remains to be seen how well nations will follow through on these pledges – and whether the newly aggressive goals can be achieved. But as a blueprint for the future, diplomats were clearly proud of their efforts, and even many skeptical climate activists praised the unexpected boldness of portions of the agreement. “Countries have united around a historic agreement that marks a turning point in the climate crisis,” said Jennifer Morgan, international climate expert with the World Resources Institute.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore added, “Years from now, our grandchildren will reflect on humanity’s moral courage to solve the climate crisis and they will look to December 12, 2015, as the day when the community of nations finally made the decision to act.”

Here are highlights of the deal–some surprises, some snubs, what it means, and where it takes us:

SURPRISES

1.5 Degrees

Aside from the fact that there’s an agreement at all, perhaps nothing was more unexpected than the ambitiousness of its goal: Negotiators came to Paris with a mission to stop the rise of greenhouse gases before they cause irreversible harm to the planet. Countries previously had set a target of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But the new accord commits the planet to limiting global temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees Celsius.” And it adds that nations will do so while also “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.”

Read the entire article