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Letter: Climate change deniers face a new reality

Islanders are being asked to comment online on the province's strategy to address climate change.
Islanders are being asked to comment online on the province's strategy to address climate change.

Most people now realize that certain weather fluctuations and sudden extremes might just have some connection to climate change.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the “hurricane season” ends Nov. 30, but don’t hold your breath. The climate really is changing.

There has seldom been a Category 5 storm in the Atlantic (“Emily” made Category 5 in July 2005). One, named Irma, churned off the U.S. east coast last month, while Maria caused havoc with 260 kilometre per hour winds in the eastern Caribbean.

Those “natural limits” we have historically been used to are no longer valid when it comes to climate. A shift in climate varying in wind speed and fluctuating temperature frequencies, depending on location, can be observed almost anywhere on the planet.

Thanks to the combination of warmer water and warmer air temperatures, the Antarctic ice cap is slowly beginning to fracture and melt. On May 18, 2017, the New York Times published an article illustrating “miles of ice collapsing into the sea,” as observed from the air. Some of these ice islands are huge, and will slowly float away from the main sheet that is sitting on land. As they reach warmer water, they will deteriorate and eventually disappear, quietly raising ocean levels.

Similarly, melting of the Greenland ice sheet is occurring to the extent that one can easily see rivers and waterfalls empting along its coast. As with Antarctica, the ice is sitting on land, so when it melts it adds new water to the oceans, hence raising the depth. This higher water, combined with accelerated climate-based winds and storms, will cause destruction to built-up areas near the present shorelines. These will not be just within historic levels, but will represent a new “higher normal” sea level.

The consequences of this phenomenon, in time, will be water intrusion over shores used for habitation for decades; in some cases even longer. Low parts of New York City will initially notice more regular floods than have occurred in the past. But, when the floods become more frequent, low-lying city areas may have to be surrendered to the sea, or protected by expensive works.

Most noticeable will be flooding of much of the low shorelines along the U.S. eastern seaboard from well north of New York City all the way down to Florida and around to southern Texas. Canada will be less affected, as its shorelines rise more quickly. However, some lower shores around Hudson Bay will flood (old beach ridges there indicate it has happened before), but with little damage. Arctic Islands will have more open water during the summer, changing travel needs and wildlife habitat.

Changing water levels is just one example of climate change, albeit the most obvious one. Farmers will notice a change in their crop growth; people heading off to the beach will notice water temperature and quality changes (Lake Winnipeg is an extreme example due to a large agricultural and urban drainage area along with shallow water that allows the water to warm more quickly); polar bears will become smaller over time due to lack of food deriving from shorter periods of ice cover from which they hunt seals, their preferred meal; natural vegetation will try to follow the movement of its preferred climate, or will have to adapt to a new climate reality; and similarly, ecosystems will need to adapt to new geographic locations. Migration patterns will be disrupted and animal and marine life will face dislocation.

Much of the change societies have endured in the past has evolved slowly, allowing adaptation to keep up to it. This will not be the case with climate change. It will be relatively fast, and will involve ongoing, continuous change. Human beings have adapted many times, so no doubt will be able to do it again. However, ecological systems may not be able to adapt as fast or as easily.

That is the challenge of climate change.

 

Jim Collinson
St. John’s

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