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Disasters and duck domestication: Adapting to climate change

Climate change has established itself as one of the most Herculean problems of our time, bringing with it a hurricane of interdisciplinary challenges posed in politics, economics, health, environment, and ethics on a global scale. While scientists debate heatedly on the level of anthropogenic contributions to climate, scientific consensus, entrenched in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, acknowledges that human activity and industrialism have expedited climate change.

As a result, it is important for us, as a modern fossil fuel-hungry, energy-dependent civilization that lives in a digital age, to catch wind of this problem. It may be impossible to truly reverse the catastrophic effects of global warming and rising carbon emissions, but there may still be small steps that we can take to plan for the looming storm of disaster and take baby steps towards a cleaner, greener, and all around more sustainable future. NASA has launched a number of principles of not only mitigation or reducing climate change (i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions), but also adaptation and adjusting to the futures of climate change.

One example we can see of the rising tide of adaptation is how Bangladeshi farmers are growing and cultivating ducks, instead of chickens. The rapid alterations in climate extremes of drought and flood may actually be advantageous to ducks and waterfowl species enabling them to adapt and a more suitable alternative to raising and maintaining more feeble chickens that struggle to meet the demands of climate variability.

Another more close-to-home example of adapting to the landslide of problems created by climate change can be observed as community resilience at the municipal level in Canada. Land use planning, community energy planning and zoning and permit regulations mechanisms have ensured that weather events like storms and floods have a much lower cost on Canadian infrastructure and repair costs. For example, multi-billion dollar weather catastrophes such as the 1996 Saguenay flood and 1998 cost – $1.7 billion and $5.4 billion respectively. Compare this to more recent events of similar scale such as the November 15, 2020 windstorm in Ontario that brought with it $88 million of destruction and January 10 snow and rainstorm in southern Ontario and Quebec that cost an avalanche of $98 million. That being said, more severe storms in Alberta rain down billions in cost on our economy, reiterating the value and need for more effective adaptation plans.

As we approach a tipping point, the bleak portraits of glaciers melting, redder heat maps, and forest fires are likely to remain as symbols of impending doom. It is in our best interest to accept and embrace these worst-case scenarios and think constructively about how we can sail close to the wind, while surviving and thriving in these uncertain times.

John Christy Johnson is research program officer at the Antarctic Institute of Canada (AIC) and an MD/MSc biomedical engineering candidate at the University of Alberta. Peter Anto Johnson is a research program officer at the AIC and recipient of the University of Alberta Sustainability Council’s Sustainability Leaders Award. Austin A. Mardon is an assistant adjunct professor at the University of Alberta, an Order of Canada member, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and director of the AIC.