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

Dec 122015
 

Source: By Haydn Watters, CBC News Posted: Dec 12, 2015 3:01 PM ET

After lengthy overnight negotiations and two weeks of touch-and-go discussions, delegates at the UN climate talks in Paris have adopted a climate-change pact. The final text of the Paris Agreement — considered to be the world’s first universal climate agreement — is 31 pages long. While the plenary session agreed upon the final draft Saturday afternoon, it now must be ratified.

Read the agreement

Here are five of the agreement’s key points.

1. Limit temperature rise ‘well below’ 2 C
The agreement includes a commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures “well below” 2 C compared to pre-industrial times, while striving to limit them even more, to 1.5 degrees. Canadian officials agreed to this lower amount earlier this week, saying they would support a long-term goal of limiting rising average temperatures to within 1.5 C of pre-industrial levels. Scientists consider 2 C the threshold to limit potentially catastrophic climate change.

2. First universal climate agreement
It’s the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement, with all countries expected to pitch in. The previous emissions treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, only included rich countries.​ Canada signed on to Kyoto, but later backed out in 2011. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius presented the agreement’s final draft on Saturday, noting that it is legally binding.
3. Helping poorer nations
The deal also calls on developed nations to give $100 billion annually to developing countries by 2020. This would help these poorer countries combat climate change and foster greener economies. The agreement promotes universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, particularly in Africa. It says this can be accomplished through greater use of renewable energy. In his appearance at the summit last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to helping poorer nations cope with global warming. In November, the Canadian government promised to spend $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.

4. Publishing greenhouse gas reduction targets
Countries will be tasked with preparing, maintaining and publishing their own greenhouse gas reduction targets. The agreement says these targets should be greater than the current ones and “reflect [the] highest possible amibition.” These targets will be reviewed and revised every five years starting in 2023. The agreement also says that each country should strive to drive down their carbon output “as soon as possible.”

5. Carbon neutral by 2050?

The deal sets the goal of a carbon-neutral world sometime after 2050 but before 2100. This means a commitment to limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally. Scientists believe the world will have to stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether in the next half-century in order to achieve this goal.

Dec 102015
 

When it comes to climate change, the main take-away is that it is real. That being said, efforts by climate change deniers (at least one of whom regularly submits letters to this paper) to convince people that the science on human-caused climate change is far from settled have been quite successful. As the Paris Climate Change Conference concludes and Canada prepares to firm up its greenhouse gas reduction commitments, I think it is important to understand just how outrageous, illogical and dangerously irresponsible climate change denial actually is.

Because almost none of us are climate scientists ourselves, we have to put our trust in experts in order to reach an informed position. This is not only true for climate change but for all scientific issues. Granted, coming to an informed position can be difficult, since much of science truly is unsettled. Such is often the case in medicine, for example, or with regard to the health benefits or dangers of different foods. It is also where science finds itself right now with regard to the identity of our direct hominid ancestors; what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and how life itself began. All of this means that the only responsible position is to say, “We don’t know for sure” or “the jury is still out.” In addition, it is the very nature of science that nothing is ever 100 percent settled. New research is always revising the details.

Kintigh coal-fired Generating Station - Somerset, New York - Wikimedia

Kintigh coal-fired power plant – Somerset, New York – Wikimedia

Scientific Consensus

For me, the whole issue on what to believe – with a high measure of confidence – comes down to the strength of the scientific consensus. By definition, a consensus is based upon evidence. It is arrived at by relevant experts in the field using the scientific method to determine what it true, and using this same method to try to disprove the findings of their colleagues – if they can. It’s what scientists do, it’s how they make a name for themselves, and it is how the body of scientific knowledge advances. When the evidence is weak, conflicting or preliminary, opinions proliferate, such as in the examples given previously. If the evidence is convincing enough, however, there is a tendency for the scientific community to come together with a near-single opinion, at least about the big picture. In other words, when you get enough evidence, a consensus emerges. Such is the case now with respect to everything from plate tectonics and the germ theory of disease to evolution by natural selection and that cigarettes cause cancer. It is also the case with human-caused climate change. Climate science has followed exactly the same rigorous, peer-reviewed process that arrived at these other scientific truths.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body that evaluates climate change science, there is a 97% consensus among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real. Equally compelling, these scientists are 95% confident in this conclusion. A scientific consensus does not get much higher than this. Remember, too, that these scientists are working all over the world, do not necessarily share the same motivations, are often highly competitive, and have every motivation to disprove each other’s findings – in the name of what is true. This makes the consensus even more compelling.

Some science deniers, be they on the left or the right of the political spectrum, seem to believe that mainstream science (or the government or large corporations) can just “manufacture” a scientific consensus and keep the real findings secret. This, of course, is conspiracy thinking. Some liberals, for example, blame big corporations for conspiring to hide the truth about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Likewise, some conservatives blame government, government-funded scientists, and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for conspiring to hide the truth, fudge the data and be dishonest about human-caused climate change. The idea that organizations could unscrupulously manufacture data – that its members could be in cahoots with each other over all of this time without the truth getting out – is preposterous. Every country and national scientific association on the planet would have to be in on this together.

 Settled Science

Deniers often ridicule the use of the term “settled science” when it comes to climate change. This is an unfortunate expression because it leads to confusion. What settled science refers to is that “we’re ready to act upon this information (based on the high quality of evidence) and make decisions.” It doesn’t mean that the science stops and/or that science is no longer open to new evidence. It simply a recognition that there is no significant, legitimate controversy about the central idea. If you know any climate change deniers, agnostics or people who downplay the risks, ask them if  it would be responsible NOT to act and start limiting greenhouse gas emissions when science is 95% sure of the cause? We make decisions to act all the time in science and medicine when our level of certainty is well below that. To use an analogy, if we were 40% sure that an asteroid was on course to slam into Earth, would we wait until we were 100% sure before planning a course of action? Of course, not. We would probably act at 10%.

It is no longer incumbent upon climate scientists to produce more and more evidence that humans are the main cause of climate change. They have met their burden of proof. There is no real debate occurring in the scientific community about the legitimacy of the evidence. If there was, the story would be all over the mainstream news, and some scientist(s) would become famous in the process. Rather, it is now incumbent upon deniers to produce an equal amount of valid science that the 97 percent of climatologists are mistaken. And we aren’t just talking about a technical error here or there, a case of exaggeration, or an inappropriate email. Deniers need to show the world a mountain of peer-reviewed data. The evidence for human-made climate change, like evolution, is at a point now where it cannot be wrong; it can only be incomplete. There is simply no other big picture explanation for all of the evidence that exists. Improvements in our understanding of the details will certainly occur, but it is nearly impossible that the fundamentals as understood in 2015 are wrong.

Al Gore upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 - Wikimedia

Al Gore upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 – Wikimedia

Al Gore was right when he wrote that the truth about climate change is inconvenient. In fact, it is the perfect storm of environmental problems and solutions will be difficult, controversial and costly. We will have to be open to many different technologies – maybe even geoengineering and expanded use of nuclear power. That being said, the science is the science. This trumps ideological interests, political interests, and the interests of corporations. Yes, there is a role for healthy scepticism of scientific findings when the evidence is weak or preliminary, but not when an overwhelming scientific consensus exists and when the future of civilisation as we know it hangs in the balance.

 

Sep 122015
 

September 10, 2015
Written by: Anne Meador and John Zangas

Source: DC Media Group
The repercussions of climate disruption are still not being acknowledged fully, warned climatologist Dr. James Hansen, addressing an audience of Baby Boomer and Greatest Generation climate activists on September 9.

“We’ve now got an emergency,” he told about 150 “elder activists” at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC, who were participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day.

Hansen–formerly NASA’s head climate scientist, now Adjunct Professor at Columbia University–is probably best known for bringing definitive evidence of global warming to Congress in testimony in 1988. In July of this year, he released a report with sixteen co-authors studying glacier melt in Greenland and Antarctica. Unlike previous models, the new report takes into account some feedback loops which may be hastening the loss of ice sheet mass far faster than anticipated.

Time is running out to transition to renewable energy, Hansen said, yet the most “relevant” people in power aren’t aware of the situation’s gravity. “Even people who go around saying, ‘We have a planet in peril,’ don’t get it. Until we’re aware of our future, we can’t deal with it.”

 James Hansen

James Hansen

Mass species extinction, extreme weather events, dry spells and fires are climate change impacts which are happening now. A warmer atmosphere and warmer oceans can lead to stronger storms, he explained. Superstorm Sandy, for example, remained a hurricane all the way up the Eastern seaboard to New York because Atlantic waters were abnormally warm.

“Amplifying impacts” and feedback loops will accelerate the changes, according to Hansen. “It will happen faster than you think,” he said. If major coastal cities become “dysfunctional” because of sea level rise, as he believes is possible, the global economy could be in peril of collapse.

It is therefore imperative to stop using coal, oil and gas as energy sources now. “We’ve already burned as much as we can afford,” he said. Fossil fuels already burned will continue to have impacts, because the climate system “has inertia.” “We’ve only felt the warming for half of the gases that are up there,” he said.

The use of fossil fuels is still on the rise in spite of the dangers, he said, because governments subsidize them and don’t make companies bear the real costs to society. The only viable way to make the price of fossil fuels “honest,” in his opinion, is to implement a “fee and dividend” system.

While Hansen denounced “unfettered capitalism”and “scary” trade agreements in the works, he believes government regulation can steer captains of industry onto the right path. “We’ve got to make the system work for us,” he said. “If you properly harness the market, it will work for you.”

He gave an example of incentives and tax breaks for solar panels, which he has on his own home, and how he contributes electricity to the grid. Yet one audience member took issue with a corruption-free scenario. “Come to Virginia, I dare you!” he said. (In Virginia, where Dominion Virginia Power has a stranglehold on state politics, “standby” fees and other barriers stifle solar panel installation by individuals.)
Hansen, a grandparent himself, was the keynote speaker at Grandparents Climate Action Day, an event to mobilize elder activists and promote a policy agenda aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Hansen believes elders possess resources and wisdom which, combined with the zeal of youth, can help find solutions to climate change. “Older people have a lot of clout, a lot of votes, and time,” he said. With more older people getting involved, there will be more pressure to make needed changes.

Fellow speaker John Sorensen, co-founder of the Conscious Elders Network, echoed this point. The 80 million elders in the U.S.–25% of the population–are living longer and healthier lives with more time and resources to devote to activism.

Hansen is supporting a lawsuit in which 21 young people are suing the U.S. government. (One of the plaintiffs is his granddaughter Sophie.) The lawsuit alleges that the federal government knew decades ago that burning fossil fuels and climate were linked, but continued on the same course anyway.

In his testimony for Youth v. Obama, Hansen said, “In my opinion, this lawsuit is made necessary by the at-best schizophrenic, if not suicidal, nature of U.S. climate and energy policy.”

The judiciary, he believes, is the only viable recourse left for the younger generation, “because the courts will be less under the thumb of the fossil fuel industry.”

Photo by John Zangas
“Young people have all these rights that are guaranteed by the constitution, and that’s what we’re asking the courts to look at, and I think this may be our best chance to force the government to do its job,” he said.

Most of the elders participating in Grandparents Climate Action Day probably won’t live to see the worst effects of climate change, yet they were eager to learn about the earth future generations will inherit. One participant explained her reason for being there. After working with children for her whole career, she realized that “all of it mean[s] nothing if we don’t have a livable planet.”

Jul 202015
 

source:  New York Times
By SABRINA TAVERNISE

JULY 13, 2015

Is climate change a serious threat to human health?

Simple logic would suggest the answer is yes, a point that the Obama administration is using to build support for the president’s effort to make climate change a centerpiece of his final months in office.

A White House report listed deepening risks. Asthma will worsen, heat-related deaths will rise, and the number and traveling range of insects carrying diseases once confined to the tropics will increase.

But the bullet points convey a certainty that many scientists say does not yet exist. Scientists agree that evidence is growing that warmer weather is having an effect on health, but they say it is only one part of an immensely complex set of forces that are influencing health.

For example, scientists note that global travel and trade, not climate change, brought the first cases of chikungunya, a mosquito-borne tropical disease, to Florida.
Temperatures may be rising, but overall deaths from heat are not, in part because the march of progress has helped people adapt — air conditioning is more ubiquitous, for example, and the treatment of heart disease, a major risk for heat-related mortality, has improved.
The resurgence of forests in the eastern United States and the subsequent increase in the deer population have helped drive a sharp growth in ticks and Lyme disease. But the increase in the prevalence of the illness in the United States has little to do with the climate, federal health experts say.

“There’s a lot of evidence showing that extreme weather can hurt people, but what we don’t know is whether those effects are getting worse,” said Patrick L. Kinney, director of the Columbia University Climate and Health Program, adding that scientists don’t have the long-term data needed to pinpoint how climate change is affecting health.

Still, climate change is a contributing factor. Ragweed now blooms about two to three weeks longer in the north central United States than it did a few decades ago, extending sneezing and watery eyes further into the fall, according to research led by Lewis H. Ziska, a plant scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Asian tiger mosquito, which came to the southern United States from Japan in the 1980s, likely in a shipment of used tires, has recently spread as far north as Connecticut, an encroachment scientists have connected to rising temperatures, said Dina Fonseca, an entomology professor at Rutgers University.

Mary H. Hayden, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who studies climate and health, said of dengue fever, a tropical disease carried by mosquitoes: “I don’t think we can dismiss the role of climate. But can we say there is a direct causal link? No, we can’t. It’s more complex than that.”

The science is in its infancy. Data on insects, pollen counts and diseases in developing countries is often patchy. Many studies show associations, meaning two things are happening at the same time, but it is not clear that one is causing the other. Some experts compare it to the state of science in the early days of understanding smoking’s effect on lung cancer.
Evidence is accumulating, however. In 2000, the first National Climate Assessment, a government document weaving together the best evidence on climate change, had just 21 pages on health. The most recent assessment included a special section on health that filled more than 400 pages.

Two peer-reviewed British journals — Philosophical Transactions B and The Lancet — have dedicated many pages to the topic this year. Europeans, unburdened by the level of political controversy over climate change in the United States, often give more conclusive interpretations of the science.

“We are in a far more certain place now,” said Nick Watts of the University College London Institute for Global Health and a co-author of the Lancet analysis. “We feel very comfortable talking about direct effects of climate change on health.”

The climate’s effect on health is generally less pronounced in wealthier countries like the United States, where so many people are protected from the elements in their homes. A study comparing Laredo, Tex., and a city just across the border in Mexico found the incidence of dengue fever was far higher in Mexico, even though the mosquitoes that carry it were more abundant in Texas. Researchers attributed the Texan advantage to economics — air conditioning and windows that shut — not climate.

But climate change is affecting health in developed countries, too. In Canada, the tick population has exploded in recent years, with 13 areas where ticks were living and reproducing locally, up from just two in 1997. Researchers have found that some areas have become warmer, and thus more suitable for ticks. Warmer weather allows more immature ticks to survive into adulthood, expanding the population.

“The areas that are suitable for ticks to colonize are changing,” said Patrick Leighton, an assistant professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Montreal.

Insects like ticks and mosquitoes cannot regulate their own body temperatures, so their breeding, feeding and life cycles are extremely sensitive to temperatures. Canada now has about 700 locally acquired cases of Lyme disease a year, up from about 40 cases 15 years ago. Nearly all past infections used to happen outside Canada. Now most are acquired locally.

“This whole Lyme disease issue has gone from theory to reality for us,” said Dr. Nick Ogden, a senior scientist for the Public Health Agency of Canada. “Now the ticks are really moving in.”

But Lyme disease is also an example of just how difficult it is to draw broad conclusions about how climate change affects health. The disease is also moving south, with large sections of Virginia and parts of North Carolina now inundated with ticks that carry the disease. But that pattern appears to have little to do with climate.

Dr. C. Ben Beard, associate director for climate change at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said reforestation in the eastern United States and the expanding populations of deer and people appear to be factors.
“Climate is probably not driving the southward expansion,” he said. In general, the temperature effects of climate change on ticks are more significant in northern climates, he said.

Heat has caused hundreds of deaths in Pakistan recently, with victims concentrated among older adults and people who spend a lot of time outside, like the homeless. Scientists say it is all but impossible to tie a specific weather event to climate change but say with increasing certainty that temperatures are rising.

But even heat is complicated. A recent review of heat mortality in the United States found that the rate of heat-related deaths declined by more than half from 1987 to 2005. The researchers concluded that the population had become more resilient to heat over time, which might have resulted in part from the increased use of heat warning systems by cities and improvements in medical treatment for conditions that are risk factors for heat mortality.

A study in The Lancet in May analyzed 74 million deaths from 1985 to 2012 in more than 10 countries, including the United States, and found that about 8 percent of the deaths had been caused by abnormal temperatures. Of those, the rate of death from cold — more than 7 percent — far outnumbered that from heat, about 0.42 percent.

Health risks from climate change are fundamentally local. The dangers of heat are greater in New Delhi than in New York, not only because it is hotter in the Indian city, but because fewer people have electricity, sturdy houses and modern medical care. That makes drawing broad conclusions tricky. But it does not mean the risks are not there. As Dr. Kinney noted, “if we wait for the health evidence to be ironclad, it may well be too late.”

Jun 192015
 

source: The Guardian 

The pope links the destruction of the environment with the exploitation
of the poor. The world should pay attention

Last modified on Friday 19 June 2015 00.00 BST

Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, is the most
astonishing and perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past
100 years, since it is addressed not just to Catholics, or Christians,
but to everyone on earth. It sets out a programme for change that is
rooted in human needs but it makes the radical claim that these needs
are not primarily greedy and selfish ones.

We need nature, he says, and we need each other. Our need for
mutuality, and for giving, is just as real as the selfish aspects of
our characters; the need for awe and stillness in front of nature is
just as profound as any other human need. The care of nature and the
care of the poor are aspects of the same ethical commandment, and if we
neglect either one we cannot find peace. The environment, in the pope’s
use of the word, is not something out there: nature as opposed to the
human world. The term describes the relationship between nature and
humans, who are inextricably linked and part of each other. It is that
relationship that must be set right.

Starting from that premise, he launches a ferocious attack on what he
sees as the false and treacherous appetites of capitalism and on the
consumerist view of human nature. For Francis, there is a vital
distinction between human needs, which are limited but non-negotiable,
and appetites, which are potentially unlimited, and which can always be
traded for other satisfactions without ever quite giving us what we
most deeply want. The poor, he says, have their needs denied, while the
rich have their appetites indulged. The environmental crisis links
these two aspects of the problem.

This criticism attacks both kinds of defenders of the present world
order: the deniers and the optimists. The document is absolutely
unequivocal in backing the overwhelming scientific consensus that
anthropogenic global warming is a clear and present danger. It blasts
the use of fossil fuels and demands that these be phased out in favour
of renewable energy. But it is also explicitly opposed to the idea that
we can rely on purely technological solutions to ecological problems.
This may be the most explicit break with the liberal and broadly
optimistic consensus of the consuming world. There will never be a
technological fix for the problem of unrestrained appetite, the pope
claims, because this is a moral problem, which demands a moral
solution, a turn towards sobriety and self-restraint and away from the
intoxications of consumerism.

In this he is drawing partly on the tradition of Catholic social
teaching, and partly on moral thinking popular in the 1960s, when moral
philosophers were first grappling with the implications of nuclear
weapons and the sense that humankind had not grown up but reached its
toddler stage, where the capacity for destruction far outweighed our
capacity for judgment.

Once again we find that we possess the power to destroy the planet and
most of the multicellular life on it, but this time there is no
argument from enlightened self-interest that is as clear as the
argument against nuclear warfare was in the days of the cold war. The
balance of terror no longer exists in the same form as it did when the
use of nuclear weapons would be punished by nuclear retaliation: the
poor world will now pay for the crimes of the rich, and our children
and grandchildren must pay for their parents’ self-indulgence. This is
what he means by an “ecological debt”. The sometimes apocalyptic tone,
with the threats of resource wars as well as the more obvious forms of
ecological catastrophe, arises from the sense that this debt must at
some time be terribly repaid.

Will anyone listen? The pope is scathing, and rightly so, about the
lack of action that has followed high-minded declarations in the past.
Why should this time be different? The answer, not entirely reassuring,
is that we cannot go on as we are. Self-interest alone will not avert
the catastrophe. Without a moral and imaginative structure that links
our wellbeing to that of others, so that their suffering feels as
urgent as ours, or is at least measured on the same scales, we will
render our planet uninhabitable. The pope is trying to change our
understanding of human nature. Many people will disagree with his
understanding. But he is right that no smaller change will do.

Jun 182015
 

source: The Climate Group
18 June 2015

LONDON: Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group, today welcomed the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, saying it would hugely build momentum to deliver a strong global climate deal at COP21 later this year.

“Pope Francis, one of the most influential leaders in the world, is stating that acting now on climate change has to be at the top of the list of priorities for all world leaders,” he says. “This is a hugely significant development: this is the first time the Catholic church has put such critical importance on urgent action on climate change, and puts real pressure on policymakers and business leaders to deliver at COP21.

“The driver to this intervention is that, while all of us will suffer the impacts of runaway climate change, it is the poor and the most vulnerable who will face the most devastating disruption and climate-related disasters. However what it does is mobilise 1.2 billion Catholics around the world into climate activists at a time when there is concern about the need to really raise ambition at the Paris climate talks later this year. The significance of this should not be understated.”

Climate change is primarily caused by human activity and is one of the biggest challenges for humanity, Pope Francis writes in his much-awaited encyclical released today, the first to be completely devoted to such a topic. “faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet,” he writes.

The document, addressed to every bishop and therefore to every Catholic in the world, is a fervent appeal from the Pope to take action to safeguard the environment, “our common house”, which “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

CALL TO ACTION
The document is a clear recognition of the anthropogenic cause of climate change. “A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity,” the Pope writes in his encyclical.

“It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis,” he adds. The point is particularly important for US politics, where many Republican members of Congress must try to conciliate their skepticism toward climate change with their asserted devotion to Catholicism.

The Pope is well aware economic, social and cultural oppositions are making preventing climate disruption a difficult task, stressing: “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity”.

To address this problem, he suggests humanity must “recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it”.

GLOBAL CONSENSUS
Climate change impacts “will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption,” warns the pontiff. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us”.

This is why Pope Franis calls for “global consensus” ahead of the important climate talks in Paris later this year, to tackle what he defines “the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries”. The pontiff specifically points out the need for “developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and ensuring universal access to drinking water”.

Pope Francis says an international climate agreement is necessary, not least for the sake of future generations. “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he asks. “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

GLOBAL RESPONSIBILITY
Focused on the need for a transition to cleaner energy and greater collaboration between countries as key to a robust global climate deal, he writes: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay”.

Tackling climate change implies “common and differentiated responsibilities,” writes the pontiff, recalling a term used in the climate negotiations to indicate that richer countries – which have historically polluted more than the developing ones – must restate such imbalance. “Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries,” writes Pope Francis, “it compels us to to consider an ethics of international relations.

A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time”.

For this reason, poor countries “They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources”.

COSTS AND BENEFITS
Interestingly, the Pope points out that in doing so “the costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change,” a statement that echoes last year’s New Economy Report. However, the pontiff is critical toward ‘carbon credits’, which in his opinion “can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide,” because “it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors”.

Therefore, “there is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced,” says the Pope, “for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy”.

Outlining that there is more than one ray of hope he writes: “Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion [of the global energy mix].

Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread”.

We have just “one world with a common plan one world”, affirms the Pope in the encyclical. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change”.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, comments: “Pope Francis’ encyclical underscores the moral imperative for urgent action on climate change to lift the planet’s most vulnerable populations, protect development, and spur responsible growth. This clarion call should guide the world towards a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year. Coupled with the economic imperative, the moral imperative leaves no doubt that we must act on climate change now”.

Jun 172015
 

I would be interested in knowing if people have been noticing more and bigger Poison Ivy plants in recent years. This is certainly my experience. Not only do larger areas seem to be covered by this native plant, but the plants themselves seem to be much larger. In many places, they are knee-height or higher. I was speaking with a man today who says his property on Lake Katchewanooka is now covered in Poison Ivy and that going into the woods during the summer is out of the question. I have noticed a growing abundance of the plant, too, along the Bridgenorth Trail, Trans-Canada Trail, Northumerland Forest, etc.  Studies have shown that Poison Ivy responds positively to increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere (we are now at a record 400 ppm) and that this may explain the more rapid growth . The oil that causes the rash is more potent than ever before, too. This article may be of interest.

Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy (3 leaflets, shiny, droop down, often asymmetrical)  - Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy (3 leaflets)  – Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy - always a longer stem on middle leaflet; leaflets often asymmetrical; shiny; usually droop down a little - Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy – always a longer stem on middle leaflet; leaflets often asymmetrical; shiny; usually droop down a little – Drew Monkman

 

Jun 132015
 

Source: CBS News

By Bianca Seidman  June 9, 2015

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac plants are becoming larger and stronger, a trend that’s been developing over recent years, according to researchers. That may be a combination of the plant’s nature to cause more severe reactions over time and the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of global warming.

A substance in the plants called urushiol oil is to blame for the notorious itchy rash that develops in people who touch it. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 70 to 85 percent of people exposed to urushiol oil in poison ivy and its cousins will experience an allergic reaction. Unlike other allergies that people may outgrow, sensitivity to this oil gets worse with each additional exposure.

Though urushiol oil starts penetrating the skin immediately, people may not recognize the danger and may continue touching the plant and spreading the oil, since the allergic rash often doesn’t appear for 12 to 24 hours.

Poison Ivy (3 leaflets, shiny, droop down, often asymmetrical)  - Drew Monkman

Poison Ivy (3 leaflets, shiny, droop down, often asymmetrical) – Drew Monkman

“It’s becoming more prevalent. Climate change, warmer temperatures, carbon dioxide rising — in fact, carbon dioxide levels are expected to double by the end of the century. It tells the plants to grow bigger leaves. And the oil itself, that causes poison ivy rash, is more powerful and supercharged,” Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and assistant clinical professor at NYU School of Medicine, told “CBS This Morning”The first step in prevention is to recognize the poisonous plants, which have distinctive qualities. Many varieties of poison ivy and poison oak have branches with three leaves, hence the popular phrase, “leaves of three, let them be.” But the rule isn’t foolproof: the leaves sometimes grow in larger clusters. Poison sumac may have clusters of 7 to 13 leaves. The leaves often have black spots which look like paint splatters, caused by blobs of oil that leak out become oxidized in the air and turn black.

Poison ivy grows in every one of the lower 48 states except California. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best protection is to avoid contact with the plants; don’t try to remove or burn them because the oil can cause lung irritation if inhaled.

Outdoor workers should exercise extra care around wooded areas, including learning to identify the plants and wearing protective clothing when near possible growth. There is also a barrier lotion called IvyBlock that contains the only FDA-approved drug to prevent rash from poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, known as bentoquatam.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) created this video explaining how poison ivy looks and works.

A more rare and dangerous poisonous plant which is also found in the Northeast, called wild parsnip, can cause rashes that leave scarring and blindness if its oil comes in contact with eyes.

If the oil from a poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac or related plants touches the skin, remove the oil as quickly as possible to minimize harm. The U.S. Forest Service recommends cleaning the skin with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol within 10 minutes. Some experts warn that using soap can can actually lift the urushiol oil and spread it around the skin.

Also wash clothes, shoes, gardening tools, even pets — anything that could have come in contact with the plants or their oils. The oil can remain active on surfaces and cause allergic reactions even years later.

Calamine lotion, antihistamine creams and hydrocortisone can help relieve itching if a rash develops. If a large rash spreads over 10 percent or more of the body, see a doctor.

© 2015 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Note: We do not have Poison Oak or Poison Sumac in the Kawarthas – D.M.

 

 

 

 

Jun 122015
 

Source: The Globe and Mail (Toronto, ON)

June 9, 2015
It’s quite the thought: a “decarbonized” world by the end of century. No more fossil fuels being burned 85 years hence? No more reliance on internal combustion to move goods and people across oceans? Hard to imagine.

Yet that’s the commitment the G7 announced Tuesday. “Urgent and concrete action is needed to address climate change,” the leaders, Prime Minister Harper included, said in their closing declaration. “Deep cuts in global greenhouse-gas emissions are required with a decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century.”

The declaration includes a commitment to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions by 40 to 70 per cent by 2050, compared with 2010 levels. But it’s the “decarbonization” that is eye-catching. It is supremely ambitious, but also somewhat obvious. If global warming is real (it is), then over time the economy must dramatically cut emissions, and maybe even move to zero emissions, to limit the damage of climate change.

But there is more required than a simple declaration. As Mr. Harper said, “Nobody’s going to start to shut down their industries or turn off the lights. We’ve simply got to find a way to create lower-carbon-emitting sources of energy – and that work is ongoing.”

Ongoing, but burdened by the reality of the moment. With new oil reserves being discovered and exploited, and the price falling, there is little incentive for companies and consumers to develop and use new, low-emissions technologies, or to change behaviour in ways that reduce carbon output. The incentive will have to come from governments willing to impose carbon taxes on companies and consumers, thereby raising the price of carbon. Those carbon-tax revenues can then be used to lower other taxes, rather than to simply line the coffers of government. Stephen Harper is right to worry about the second possibility, but wrong to reject the first.

British Columbia’s carbon tax is the best Canadian example of how to do it right, with higher taxes on pollution paying for lower taxes on everything else. It appears, so far, to have led to lower carbon emissions without harming economic growth. Mr. Harper appears to loathe carbon-pricing schemes, but a world safe from climate change’s worst outcomes won’t happen without government action. The best way to do that is with an idea that is as conservative as can be: Put a price on carbon, and let the market figure out the rest.

May 222015
 

Huffington Post
Posted: 05/21/2015
by Ellen Moyer, Ph.D., P.E.

Elders around the world may be our best hope for solving the “super wicked” problem of climate change. Short-term thinking created our current climate predicament. Despite warnings and predictions from the scientific community, the developed world spewed greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Given that problems, solutions, costs, and benefits play out over time frames spanning generations, the situation calls for intergenerational climate-change activism.

Why would seniors enlist in the crusade? They have a long view due to the number of years they have already lived, during which many have witnessed changes in the climate. Many also have passion to protect their children and grandchildren. Halfdan Wiik of Norwegian Grandparents Climate Campaign says, “For me, it’s all about love and optimism. Elders of today have lived our lives in a world of great changes, for good and for bad. We know it can be changed once more.”

Elders often work with a sense of urgency, realizing that they may have relatively few years left in which to leave their legacy. And generally speaking — and with countless exceptions — compared with younger people, elders often have more free time, financial resources, wisdom, experience, economic and political clout, sense of connection to nature, and freedom from worries about job security, mortgages, and dependents.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, many of today’s elders successfully demanded an end to the Vietnam War, expanded the civil rights movement, and created the modern environmental movement. From these experiences, they learned how to create change.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben calls on baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) to rally once again. “Now is the boomers’ chance to reclaim their better, bolder natures and to end their run as it began,” he writes. Baby boomers began reaching retirement age in 2011. Retired boomers represent a huge, untapped resource that grows by 10,000 people every day in the U.S. alone. Baby boomers wield enormous power, constituting 36 percent of the U.S. electorate and accounting for half of all U.S. consumer spending.

Ron Pevny, director of the Center for Conscious Eldering and author of Conscious Living, Conscious Aging, highlights not only the growing demographics but also the number of retirement years in people’s life spans. “The paradigm for retirement is changing, with many people seeing this new life chapter as a time for both savoring newfound freedom and being strongly engaged with the community. They are feeling a strong need for purpose as they contemplate how to live fulfilling lives in their later years,” he remarks.

Philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore suggests that elders may have a moral imperative to act on climate change. She writes: “Retired people often feel that, since they’ve worked all their lives, the world owes them a rest. That’s outrageous. Old age is precisely when we need to pay the world back. Yes, we have worked hard, but our successes depended on a stable climate, temperate weather, abundant food, cheap fuel, and a sturdy government — all advantages that our children and grandchildren will not have if we don’t act…. We’ve got to remember that the next generation will have to live in whatever is left of the world after we get done with it.”

Throughout human history and in many cultures, elders have insisted on attention to the needs of succeeding generations. Numerous elders groups taking on climate change have recently formed — many just within the past few years — and their memberships are growing.

Elders Climate Action (ECA) pushes for change in energy policy, advocating for “carbon fee and dividend” legislation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan. ECA also supports 350.org’s campaign for divestment from fossil fuel stocks. ECA is organizing a national event in Washington, D.C., in September 2015 at which elders will rally and then deliver their message to members of Congress and government agencies. ECA is creating local working groups around the U.S. to continue work on federal as well as local climate legislation.
Gray is Green, an environmental education, advocacy, and action organization for older adults, monitors and communicates climate change information. Among its climate change-related projects, it educates retirement communities about ways they can reduce their carbon footprint.
Elder Activists works for a sustainable and just world, participating in climate change study groups, rallies, and marches.
100 Grannies works on an array of environmental issues, highlighting the topic of climate change in rallies, marches, workshops, lectures, and film festivals.
FiftyOverFifty.org uses the power of peaceful civil disobedience to push for climate solutions.
Stay Cool for Grandkids, centered in the San Diego, California, area, focuses on local climate change-related issues, promoting smart transportation, development of a local climate action plan, open space preservation, and planning for sea level rise. Activities include letter-writing campaigns, workshops, and lectures.

Several organizations have the specific goal of bringing elders’ groups together. The Conscious Elders Network (CEN) is comprised of action teams that meet together monthly. In addition, CEN is building a web-based network to coordinate and promote other elders groups. The CEN website includes descriptions of elders organizations and a common calendar that lists their courses, retreats, and other events. CEN’s Intergenerational Connections action team works to bring elders and youngers together to address critical issues of our time, including climate change, by teaming up and learning from each other. The Conscious Aging Alliance is another growing network of elders organizations.

 

Norwegian Grandparents Climate Campaign at a demonstration in 2012 in front of Parliament. At these monthly events, participants hold signs with messages such as "The Children's Climate - Our Business" and "Statoil Out of Tar Sands," hand out leaflets, and collect petition signatures (http://www.besteforeldreaksjonen.no/).

Norwegian Grandparents Climate Campaign at a demonstration in 2012 in front of Parliament. At these monthly events, participants hold signs with messages such as “The Children’s Climate – Our Business” and “Statoil Out of Tar Sands,” hand out leaflets, and collect petition signatures (http://www.besteforeldreaksjonen.no/).

Elders groups are addressing climate change in the developed world outside the U.S., too: The Elders, an independent group of global leaders chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, work together for peace and human rights. They call for visionary leadership to set the world on a course for a carbon-neutral future. This includes a robust, universal, and legally binding agreement on climate change in 2015, in which every country commits to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The Norwegian Grandparents Climate Change Campaign (NGCC) pushes for Norwegian climate legislation, enforcement of existing laws, cessation of new licenses for drilling in the Arctic, and withdrawal of Statoil (Norway’s state-owned oil company) from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. NGCC participated in the People’s Climate March, pushes for divestment from fossil fuels, and works closely with youngers — for example ECO-Agents, a children’s environmental organization. Elders and youngers write joint letters of protest to government officials, go together to Parliament to speak, meet in schools, and attend rallies and march together.
The United Kingdom’s Grandparents Climate Action lobbies Parliament; participates in rallies and marches for climate action; attends fossil fuel divestment meetings at churches, universities, and local governments; hands out postcards; puts up posters; and edits One Million Climate Jobs booklets for international trade union conferences.
Other organizations include Grandparents for a Safe Earth in the U.K, For Our Grandchildren in Canada, Suzuki Elders in Canada, BoomerWarrior in Canada, Grands-Parents pour le Climat in Switzerland, Grands-Parents pour le Climat in France, the European Network of Green Seniors, and Knitting Nannas in Australia.
Indigenous elders from around the world have been sounding the alarm for some time, and many say they have lost faith in the U.N. climate talks. Climate change is dramatically changing the ecosystems in which many of them live. The Indigenous Elders and Medicine Peoples Council made this formal statement in September 2014 at the United Nations Climate Summit: “We are all responsible and we are all capable of creating a new path forward with new sources of energy that do not harm the people or the Earth. We are obligated to all take action now to protect what is left of the Sacredness of Life. We can no longer wait for solutions from governmental and corporate leaders. We must all take action and responsibility to restore a healthy relationship with each other and Mother Earth. Each of us is put here in this time and this place to personally decide the future of humankind. Did you think the Creator would create unnecessary people in a time of such terrible danger? Know that you yourself are essential to this World. Believe that! Understand both the blessing and the burden of that.”

Inuits assembled at an Elders Conference on Climate Change to discuss how the climate has changed, its possible future effects, and what can be done about the situation.
The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, a “global alliance of prayer, education, and healing for our Mother Earth, all her inhabitants, all the children, and for the next seven generations to come,” works on climate change and other issues.
Other international and Native American groups and gatherings involving elders working on climate change include Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change 2009, Global Center for Indigenous Leadership and Lifeways, Wisdom of the Elders, First Stewards Inc., Olohana Foundation, and Native Peoples – Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop.
With its scope, interdependencies, uncertainties, and conflicts, climate change is a big problem that will span many generations. Westerners of all ages who are alive today have benefited from the petroleum party, so youngers share responsibility for the climate. Furthermore, the severity of the problem demands that all segments of the population must act. Climate change presents an opportunity for environmental crusaders of all ages to work together, learn from one another, and help create a carbon-neutral future.

Ellen Moyer, Ph.D., P.E., is an independent consultant dedicated to remediating environmental problems and promoting green practices to prevent new problems. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Facebook or find more information or sign up for updates on her website.

May 212015
 

Published on Wednesday, May 20 2015

Toronto Star
In the PR trade, it’s known as “dump and run.” If you have bad news, or at least something you hope won’t get too much attention, put it out when people are looking in another direction. The Friday before a long weekend will do nicely.
So it was that the Harper government chose last Friday, hours before the Victoria Day weekend, to release Canada’s new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in advance of a crucial international climate summit set for December.
And no wonder. The plan to fight climate change that Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced is, if anything, a step backward from Ottawa’s previous promises. It’s also less ambitious than the targets put out so far by other major industrialized countries. Instead of leading on this vital issue, Canada under the Harper government seems content once again to drag its heels.
Here’s how bad the plan that Aglukkaq called “fair and ambitious” really is:
Canada is now promising to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. That’s actually less ambitious than targets set out by Ottawa back in 2009 at another climate summit in Copenhagen. It puts Canada behind both the United States and the European Union. The U.S. is committed to reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. (By comparison, Canada’s new goal would cut emissions by just 23.5 per cent over the same period.) The EU is even more ambitious: it has pledged to reduce emissions by 40 per cent below 1990 levels.
Canada has abandoned its pledge to “harmonize” climate policies with the United States. For years, the Harper government insisted that Canada should move in lock-step with the U.S. in order to have a uniform, continental approach to combating climate change. But now Washington has announced more aggressive policies, and suddenly Ottawa no longer wants to keep up.
As Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, wrote in the Star last month: “The reality seems to be that harmonization has just been an excuse the federal government used to justify doing nothing, and then quickly abandoned as soon as it meant doing something.”
Ottawa’s new plan does not address the most controversial source of emissions in Canada: Alberta’s oilsands. In addition to the 30-per-cent-by-2030 target, Aglukkaq said Canada will match proposed U.S. regulations to crack down on emissions from three sectors: methane produced by hydraulic “fracking”; power plants that run on natural gas; and makers of chemicals and nitrogen fertilizer. Conspicuously absent from the list is the oilsands, which are expected to produce most of the future growth in Canada’s climate-threatening emissions. Harper has said it would be “crazy” to impose new burdens on the oil sector while prices are low, but it’s a missed opportunity to begin long-delayed change there.
Instead of meeting the new target by actually cutting emissions, Canada seems to be moving toward buying international credits to offset future growth. Previously that was just a possibility, dismissed as a useless gesture by Conservative ministers. But cabinet documents obtained by CBC News now say explicitly that Canada should purchase credits to “counterbalance increasing emissions from the oilsands.”
Fortunately, there is some good news. Despite the lack of national leadership, Canada is getting serious about addressing climate change. But that’s happening despite Ottawa, not because of it. To their credit, major provinces are going ahead on their own and imposing a price on carbon emissions. Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, which together account for 70 per cent of the country’s economy, have announced carbon-pricing schemes and ambitious plans to reduce emissions. Federal leadership would be preferable, but with its feeble announcement last week the Harper government is making it clearer than ever that the provinces should not wait to take action.