David Suzuki: Welcome to an extreme, warming world

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      My hometown, Vancouver, is in a rainforest, so we celebrate sunny days. People I talk to are enjoying the recent warm, dry weather, but they invariably add, “This isn't normal”—especially with all the smoke from nearby forest fires

      With no mountain snowpack and almost no spring rain, rivers, creeks, and reservoirs are at levels typically not seen until fall. Parks are brown. Blueberries, strawberries, and other crops have arrived weeks earlier than usual. Wildfires are burning here and throughout Western Canada. Meanwhile, normally dry Kamloops has had record flooding, as has Toronto. Manitoba has been hit with several tornadoes and golf-ball-sized hail

      Unusual weather is everywhere. California is in its fourth year of severe drought. Temperatures in Spain, Portugal, India, and Pakistan have reached record levels, sparking wildfires and causing thousands of deaths and heat-related ailments. Heavy rains, flooding, and an unusually high number of tornadoes have caused extensive damage and loss of life in Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico.

      The likely causes are complex: a stuck jet stream, the Pacific El Niño, natural variation, and climate change. Even though it’s difficult to link all events directly to global warming, climate scientists have warned for years that we can expect these kinds of extremes to continue and worsen as the world warms. Some hypothesize that the strange behaviours of this year’s jet stream and El Niño are related to climate change, with shrinking Arctic sea ice affecting the former. 

      Several recent studies indicate a clear connection between increasing extreme weather and climate change. One, by climatologists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, looked at rising global atmospheric and sea-surface temperatures, which have increased water vapour in the atmosphere by about five percent since the 1950s.

      According to the paper, published in Nature Climate Change, “This has fuelled larger storms, and in the case of hurricanes and typhoons, ones that ride atop oceans that are 19 centimetres higher than they were in the early 1900s. That sea-level rise increases the height of waves and tidal surges as storms make landfall.”

      A Stanford University study found, “accumulation of heat in the atmosphere can account for much of the increase in extreme high temperatures, as well as an average decrease in cold extremes, across parts of North America, Europe and Asia,” but also concluded the influence of human activity on atmospheric circulation, another factor in climate change, is not well understood.  

      Earth is clearly experiencing more frequent extreme weather than in the past, and we can expect it to get worse as we burn more coal, oil, and gas and pump more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This can have profound and costly impacts on everything from agriculture to infrastructure, not to mention human health and life. 

      As Pope Francis pointed out, climate change and social justice are intricately connected: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.”

      That’s why so many people from Canada and around the world are calling for action as government leaders prepare for December’s UN climate summit in Paris: religious leaders including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama; global organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Energy Agency, and World Health Organization; businesses from Microsoft to Ikea to General Motors; and millions of people like those who marched for “Jobs, Justice and the Climate” in Toronto on July 5. All know the future of humanity depends on rapidly shifting the way we obtain and use energy. 

      Even though many world leaders recognize the problem, the recent G-7 agreement to decarbonize our energy by the end of the century is a horrifying joke. None of today’s politicians making the commitment will be alive to bear the responsibility for achieving the target, and the time frame doesn’t address the urgent need to begin huge reductions in fossil fuel use immediately.

      Governments at the provincial, state, and municipal levels have led the way in finding solutions. Now it’s time for national leaders to finally demonstrate real courage and foresight as they gear up for the Paris summit later this year.




      Jul 7, 2015 at 7:06pm

      And announced today, the BC government has approved the Site C dam construction as well as an agreement in principle with Pacific NorthWest LNG for a liquefied natural gas development on the province's northwest coast. The sun is shining, the wind is blowing and tides never end. Perhaps there would be jobs in those renewable resource options???


      Jul 8, 2015 at 9:34am

      "Perhaps there would be jobs in those renewable resource options???"

      Site C dam is a renewable resource development with lots of jobs. In fact it would be able to displace large amount of carbon intensive power like coal. Site C dam will also be acting like a massive battery which will support wind and solar. Since those power sources are intermittent the dam can provide power when the sun is not shining or its not windy.

      We should all support more hydro power, if you care about global warming.

      Amy is tired of just cycling to work

      Jul 8, 2015 at 4:14pm

      I agree this weather is going to be more commonplace. We are in the middle of an extreme drought in Vancouver with our water reservoirs at unprecedented low levels. Our government also recently signed a deal to basically give our water away to Nestle for free. It all feels so corporate and backwards and preventable. That is what upsets me the most, is that this - this drought, these fires, were largely preventable had we embraced clean energy, not allowed ourselves to be distracted by industry-funded climate change deniers, and big oil/big profit. I can appreciate well informed debate but don't tell me some lobbyist knows more about climate change than individuals who make it their life's work to study climatology. Seeing our skies choked in smoke feels like we are getting what's coming to us. A firefighter died in Sechelt on the weekend - all of it is such a shame. David - what more can we do besides the 350ppm sponsored March and the finger crossing for Paris? (In addition to living with a low carbon footprint).

      Jacob Sladder

      Jul 8, 2015 at 5:05pm

      What happens when we take global warming / climate change into account, and add deforestation, desertification, habitat destruction, overfishing, over-hunting, poaching, soil / water / air pollution, etc? The cumulative effects have to be considered - all the negative human-caused impacts are not simply additive, but amount to greater than the sum of the parts.

      Let's not beat about the bush here - what is the worst case scenario. What do we see in the next 100 or 200 years? The collapse of civilization? Or are we going to somehow adapt and muddle through this?

      @Jacob Sladder

      Jul 8, 2015 at 5:47pm

      Don't worry, there will not be a collapse of civilization in the next 200 years. Humans are the most adaptable tetrapod species on the planet and have survived worse events (ice ages, famines, epidemics, cataclysms) and have always come out stronger. It is however, possible, that surviving those challenges will not be a pleasant experience. Humanity has seen suffering on biblical proportions for thousands of years, but because we did not have photographs until just about a century ago (let alone handheld cameras and YouTube), the common public tends to take a detached view towards those historical calamities.

      Barry William Teske

      Jul 8, 2015 at 6:55pm

      @Jacob Sladder
      I am quite confident somewhere in that future there will be a human with the usual club in hand ready to pound on the next human who dares say 'can I smell the roses too please?".


      Jul 8, 2015 at 7:20pm

      i am afraid the media in north america has become a propaganda machine for controlling interests. I find comment sections have enabled a certain lot to run amok with disparaging personal attacks whilst on-topic information is not published or is removed without explanation. Further, politicians who provide a policy platform are immediately judged to have "failed", "lost" or "blew-it" I don't think I need to give examples as I think we can see this all around us. Online media is how many of us try to keep informed- and yet given this slant I can't help but worry that many are being piped like the children of Hamlin into the dark unforgiving mountain. It bothers me to see or hear of no reprimand investigation or citation given to these organizations that seem to strive so hard to malign and misinform ; that there is no call of abuse of license. It is like the villagers gathering at town square to vote and decree that pi = 3. The public is being played- and the quality of our childrens lives and theres placed on the sacrificial altar of simpleminded selfishness.

      We gave up

      Jul 8, 2015 at 7:21pm

      There's so many variables once the system is out of whack.

      The site C damn may be good, but the loss of arable land to grow our food is another system we've been pillaging. We simply can't send out for all our edibles.

      Forests act as a heat sink, so the more of that we lose the worse it gets as well.

      The politicians are tasked with fixing everything but our responsibilities to the environment are still with us individually.


      Jul 8, 2015 at 8:21pm

      Yeah it's happening. And here in Canada - Harper is so far behind the curve on global warming - and behind the public who realize the warming is real and dangerous - and the voters sure won't be backing Harper unless he shows signs of catching on and up, no matter how many sleazy attack ads he puts out.


      Jul 9, 2015 at 10:10am

      I always laugh when people tell me the weather is the "worst on record". You mean the worst weather in perhaps the past hundred years or so? Really, I haven't seen or heard of anyone reading weather records from say 1473. We silly humans tend to think our time is the most important in history and as a result we tend to think we know everything. We seldom take a long term view because it doesn't serve us. NOBODY knows what the weather was like hundreds of years ago, so how can we actually think the weather as it is now is terrible? We basically have no concept of what the world was like in the past. Digging through the dirt doesn't really tell us anything. Everybody who supports the whole global warming thing do so because someone else like the Pope or Suzuki say so. I could care less what either one of them has to say. Especially the Pope - all he knows is how to exploit the poor to enrich the Vatican bank. People like Suzuki are just running a hype to get financing for their pet projects.