David Suzuki Foundation supporters who live in Western Canada often have eyes riveted on Ottawa to see what the federal government’s next move will be when it comes to environmental issues. So we sometimes too easily overlook Canadians in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador — coastal regions, like ours, on the front lines of climate change.
As oceans warm, water expands and sea levels rise. Melting glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets add to the water volume. Scientists predict oceans could rise by more than a metre before the end of the century. They’re also increasingly convinced that escalating carbon emissions are linked to the risk of extreme weather events and intensified storms, such as the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or super storm Sandy in the U.S. in 2012. A key finding from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is that Atlantic Canada faces similar risks if climate change is left unchecked, with more severe storms causing surging tides, flooding and widespread coastal erosion.
For his captivating documentary, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada, Ian Mauro, an environmental and social scientist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, interviewed farmers, fishers, local residents, First Nations community members, scientists and business people from all around the Atlantic provinces. All say climate change is affecting their communities and livelihoods. They also agree something must be done and that the “business as usual” scenario is no longer an option.
The heart of the problem is our seemingly unquenchable thirst for mainly fossil-fuel based energy resources. As our desire for comfort and efficiency grows, so does our energy consumption, prompting the search for sources increasingly difficult to extract. The words oilsands, shale gas, offshore drilling and fracking have only entered our vocabulary in just the past few decades — including in Atlantic communities, many of which now also rely on these fossil-based industries to fuel economic prosperity.
But with current talks about oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, shale gas fracking in New Brunswick, and moving tar sands bitumen from Alberta to the East Coast, we must ask if economic profit and prosperity for a few are worth the environmental and social risks to so many – especially when the latest IPCC report suggests that to avoid global catastrophic climate chaos, we must leave much of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground.
In light of what the scientific community is telling us about the scope and impacts of climate change — largely a result of burning fossil fuels — we owe it ourselves and our children and grandchildren to consider the implications of the choices we’re about to make in Atlantic Canada and the rest of the country. As former Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan reminded us before leaving his position earlier this year, Canada is not prepared for a major oil spill off the East Coast. And, as New Brunswick Chief Medical Health Officer Eilish Cleary points out regarding the economics of shale gas development, “[We] cannot simply assume that more money equates to a healthier population.”
Coastal regions such as Atlantic Canada have a long cultural history based largely on fishing, tourism and other marine activities. Although fossil-fuel activities have been in Atlantic Canada for decades, proposed new on- and offshore energy projects will likely put Atlantic Canada’s existing economy and way of life at risk, affecting tourism and fishing in the ocean and on rivers like New Brunswick’s famous Miramichi.
When it comes to climate change, our future will not be determined by chance but by choice. We can choose to ignore the science, or we can change our ways and reduce carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels. It’s up to us and our leaders to consider and promote energy alternatives and other solutions that modernize our energy systems, provide a clean, healthy environment for our families and offer long-term economic prosperity.
Scientist, author and broadcaster David Suzuki wrote this column with David Suzuki Foundation-Quebec science project manager Jean-Patrick Toussaint. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.