Climate Change on the Bruce Peninsula: Sources of Knowledge

I attended the Sources of Knowledge Forum in Tobermory this weekend. It offered an outstanding assessment of the science of climate change, with a good discussion on implications for the Bruce Peninsula.

The weekend started with a picture of the science presented by Dr. Barry Smit, of the University of Guelph, and a contributor to the IPCC panel on climate change. To put it simply: the science is clear. Global warming is happening. He then went on to describe the challenges scientists have in getting their word out in a way that the media and public understands it. Science operates on long time lines. A paper is submitted to a publication, and then peer reviewed, by blind reviewers. If the paper passes, it is published. Then other scientists review the material, and either dispute it, or refine and enhance it, again with the same peer time frames. The process is slow, but its purpose is to zero in inexorably on the truth. The climate deniers, sponsored by the fossil interests, can operate on media time – publishing papers, “studies”, holding press conferences, or talking to media at a moment’s notice. It is easier to move when you don’t have to worry about the truth. Sound familiar?

The conference went on to assess if climate change has been felt on the Peninsula. It has. Bill Caulfield Browne, a local amateur meteorologist presented the findings from his weather station over the past 15 years compared to the long term average from the Environment Canada’s now defunct Tobemory weather station. Average temperatures are up by about 1 degree from 20-40 years ago. The biggest increase is experienced in winter. Precipitation seems to be a bit higher, mainly because the precipitation events are bigger rather than more frequent.

The climate models forecast that the Peninsula will increase by 4-6 degrees C by the end of the century. That is a huge increase. It means we move from an average temperature of 6 degrees C, to 12. The average January temperature rises to zero, from minus 6. The conference spent a fair bit of time speculating on the impact of this on the local tourist economy, but of course it is obvious. Snowmobiling, ice fishing, downhill and nordic skiing will basically be history. And all of the businesses that service these activities will close.

The lakes will have minimal ice cover, increasing evaporation rates, resulting in a decline in water levels, with negative impact on boating and shipping. Declining water levels also reduce riperian zones along the lakes, which are important fish hatcheries. Fishing could see continued problems.

The scientists at the conference seemed almost resigned to climate change occurring in a significant way, and suggested that we need to focus some of our efforts on adaptation rather than mitigation. Adaptation is figuring out how to live with climate change. Mitigation is trying to stop it. It is discouraging to hear that scientists believe the battle for mitigation is going so poorly, that all they can really do now is encourage society to look at adaptation. Several expressed hope that when society starts to look at adaptation, and perhaps more important, when it is costed, mitigation may emerge as the cheapest and preferred alternative.

The impact on flora and fauna on the Bruce was discussed, as we become a different ecozone. Species that used to survive here, may not be able to survive in the future. Rather, new species will be able to take their place – if they can get here.

One of the things I think all environmentalists take as gospel is that if we are planting trees, we should, whenever possible, plant trees that are native, and hopefully from local stock. In other words, plant trees that evolved here, and are genetically ready for our climate, soils etc. But I am not sure of that anymore. Should we plant trees that may survive for 40 years, but then lose vigour, as our temperatures rise? Or is it time to start planning ahead. Perhaps we should start planting the trees of southern Ohio. Will we need to learn to live with sycamore, sour gum, and cottonwood, and without sugar maple and hemlock? Will our orchids survive? Should we be the ones to introduce new species of trees, shrubs, and perhaps other organisms? Humans usually mess such things up, but with the loss of forest south of the peninsula, and no real corridor for species to migrate from southern Ohio, can we let nature take its course?

The conference was first rate, with very high quality speakers, and good materials. My congratulations to the organizing committee.

The local transition group presented the next day. This was the uplifting part of the conference. It is a group of local citizens who are educating themselves about peak oil, and climate change, and taking action to build community resilience. And it is evident they have fun doing it.

The conference was interesting and disturbing at the same time.

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