ACT’s Executive Director on The Weather Network

ACT’s Executive Director, Deborah Harford, was interviewed by Weather Network reporter Oga Nwobosi Wednesday, September 23rd. Deborah talked to Oga about extreme weather events in Canada and British Columbia, the impacts, challenges, opportunities, and responses in relation to escalating climate disruption. Deborah also discussed practical solutions for coping with extreme weather, from ACT’s Extreme Weather Events policy report.

Look for Deborah discussing extreme weather on the Weather Network on rotation for the next two weeks!


Australia’s worst dust storm in 70 years

Australia’s worst dust storm in 70 years left large parts of the country’s eastern coast glowing in an eerie orangey-red light…not to mention a horrific amount of dust. Check out the video from Seven News and the footage of Sydney.



ACT releases second set of policy recommendations – Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather

Today, ACT has released its second set of policy findings – on extreme weather events – authored by Dr. Gordon McBean of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, and Dr. Dan Henstra, of the University of Windsor.

The summary recommendations and the accompanying background report are both available for download in pdf format on the ACT website: www.sfu.ca/act.


ACT to release second set of policy recommendations Wednesday, September 9th

ACT is set to release findings from its second session – on extreme weather events – Wednesday Sepetember 9th, 2009. Report authors Dr. Gordon McBean and Dr. Dan Henstra will join ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford and Western Professor Gregory Kopp at a news conference at 11:00 a.m., Wednesday September 9, 2009 at Western’s Insurance Research Laboratory for Better Homes, also known as the Three Little Pigs Research Project, to discuss the findings.

ACT’s second session, on extreme weather events, ran from June 2008 to December 2008. The report from the session is called Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather, authored by Dr. Gordon McBean, Policy Chair of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), and Dr. Dan Henstra, Assistant Professor of public administration and local government in the Department of Political Science at the University of Windsor.

Visit the ACT website at www.sfu.ca/act to view the press release.

The summary policy recommendations and background report will both be available for download in pdf format from the ACT website at www.sfu.ca/act Wednesday September 9th.


India to import food as drought disrupts food supply

The Indian government has announced they will import food to make up for shortages caused by a drought affecting an estimated 700 million people. The monsoon season has brought 29% less rainfall than usual, disrupting rice, soybean, sugarcane, and cotton crops. Up to 70% of Indians are dependent on farm incomes, and about 60% of India’s farms dependent on rains.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, “any commodity that was in short supply would be imported to boost domestic stocks,” and described a “grim situation”. He declined to comment on details of the imports, citing an attempt to avoid speculation on prices. Food prices have risen by 10% after poor monsoon rains hit sowing. Reports said lentils, edible oils and other staples might be among the foods to be imported.

ACT will be hosting a session on crop adaptation and food supply as part of its 5-year series.


Wake up, freak out, then get a GRIP!

It’s time to wake up, freak out, then get a GRIP! Check out this great video by Leo Murray that summarizes how dangerously close to the tipping point in the world’s climate system we are, and the scenarios the all species of the planet will face if we don’t anything about it.

“This is not the time to panic, or dispair – it’s the time to ACT!” says Leo. We ARE capable of responding to the great climate challenges we face, and now is the time for cheer and steer, not doom and gloom.


Okanagan wildfires threaten thousands of residents in Kelowna

The evacuation order for several neighbourhoods surrounding the Kelowna area have now been replaced with evacuation alerts. Vicious wildfires have again been threatening thousands of residents in Kelowna. Approximately 11,000 people were forced to flee their homes under evacuation order, by blazes that were sparked on last week. The Terrace Mountain fire is estimated to cover an area of 4,500 hectares, but is now 85% contained.

Approximately 1,013 residents living in the Fintry area, Valley of the Sun and La Casa resort are still on evacuation order.  The estimated 1,200 residents in the Killiney Beach Short Notice evacuation alert and the Caesar’s Landing short notice evacuation alert areas must be prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.  Another approximately 2,508 residents remain on evacuation alert in the Westshore – Beau Park and Wilson’s Landing – Trader’s Cove and Bear Creek Main to Bear Lake Evacuation Alert areas and should be ready to leave their home should that status change.

The Evacuation Alert has been rescinded for the estimated 17,500 residents affected in the Glenrosa and Rose Valley fires within the District of West Kelowna. Both fires are in the clean-up stage are 100% contained.

The close proximity of the fire to residential areas are a stark reminder of the devastating 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire that destroyed 239 homes on the southern edge of Kelowna, and forced 27,000 people to evacuate. Following the 2003 fire, Interior Reforestation Co. Ltd. prepared a report for the City of Kelowna that evaluated restoration opportunities in the wake of the disaster. The “Post Fire Rehabilitation Project” produced a variety of tools to help local government coordinate and focus additional fire re-vegetation and restoration treatments.

Environment Canada has released a special weather statement for coastal British Columbia, citing ‘extreme heat and poor air quality for metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley’, with temperatures into the mid-to upper 30s can be expected. Computer models suggest the heat-wave may last another 4 to 5 days. Many daily temperature records will be broken and possibly monthly temperature records such as hottest July day on record.

ACT will be releasing our second set of policy recommendations – on extreme weather events – in September 2009.


Is China destined to be the next green energy superpower?

China is investing billions of dollars into renewable energy production in an effort to combat their steeply rising greenhouse gas emissions. While the US is only just taking its first steps towards mandating power companies to generate more electricity from renewable sources, China already imposed such a requirement 2 years ago.

At present coal remains China’s biggest energy source, with at least one coal plant opening every week to meet the nation’s growing demand for power. However HSBC predicts that China will invest more money in renewable energy and nuclear power between now and 2020 than in coal-fired and oil-fired electricity.

An immediate example is the series of projects the country is currently constructing in the Gobi Desert. These include wind and solar plants – both of which are experiencing an unforeseen benefit from the world economic crisis – a significant reduction in the cost of materials needed for construction.

The projects, which are being built on the enormous scale we have come to expect from China’s infrastructure innovations in projects like the Three Gorges dam, “totally dwarf anything else, anywhere else in the world,” says Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group in Brussels.

Mr. Li Junfeng – deputy director general for energy research at China’s top economic planning agency and Secretary General of the government-run Renewable Energy Industries Association – predicts that China will have 30,000 megawatts of wind energy by the end of 2010 – a target they had hoped to reach by 2020.

Challenges for the Gobi Desert projects include resilience and weak infrastructure issues. For instance, sandstorms that obscure solar panels render them useless, and must be carefully cleaned off by workers with feather dusters to avoid scratching the delicate surfaces – a time-consuming and labour-intensive process that can take up to two days. Wind turbines are being built faster than China can augment its national grid by erecting power lines to carry the newly-generated electricity to cities at a variety of distances.

New legislation on emissions in the US, combined with BC’s already forward-looking carbon tax, will no doubt stimulate the new low-carbon economy and low-emissions technologies here in North America. ACT’s upcoming Energy session, scheduled to begin in September 2009, will consider new standards and solutions for BC’s energy sector in light of climate change impacts and economic stresses, as pressure to reduce emissions and the need to adapt energy generation and distribution methods rises.


‘Megacryometeor’ costs Delta residents $15,000 in property damage

May showers not only bring flowers, but also volleyball-sized chunks of ice falling from clear blue skies. In May, The Province, CTV, and other news outlets reported the story of a Delta resident witnessing large chunks of ice falling from the sky like “artillery shells”.

The largest of the ice balls was reportedly the size of a volleyball, and created a small crater about six inches deep, and a foot in diameter. Estimates of the damages caused to residential property are in the $15,000 range.

Although initial reports suggest the ice could have come from a passing airplane overhead, witnesses specifically claim they did not see any planes, or exhaust from planes overhead at the time of the incident. The Meteorological Service of Canada is now taking steps to liaise with Delta police to re-locate the samples from a freezer to an Environment Canada lab in North Vancouver, where they will undergo scientific analysis.

A scientific research team in Spain, hosted by TIERRA: Thematic Network of Earth Sciences in Spain, describe the phenomena as ‘extreme atmospheric events (Megacryometeors) that could be a new type of fingerprint (geoindicator) of Climate Change’. The team claims that “tropospheric Global Warming (and mainly Stratospheric Cooling) might be making the tropopause colder, moister and more turbulent, creating conditions in which ice crystals could grow, forming, unusually and much more recurrently, large ice conglomerations”.

ACT has been in touch with the scientists who will be studying the megacryometeors to analyze their composition, and looks forward to reporting on the outcome of the analysis when it become available!


Caribbean Coral deaths blamed on climate change

Climate change is being blamed as a major contributor to flattening of the complex, multi-layered architecture of Caribbean coral reefs, which provide a natural defense against tropical storms and a home to hundreds of species of aquatic flora and fauna.

A study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, authored in part by researchers from Simon Fraser University, states that the most complex type of reefs have been almost entirely wiped out across the entire Caribbean. Characterized by Table Corals of over 1 metre across and, and large Staghorn Corals, complex reefs act as a refuge for fish stocks, and hunting ground for larger, commercially fished species.

An analysis of 500 surveys of 200 reefs, conducted between 1969 and 2008, show that many have been replaced with the flattest types of rubble-strewn reef, which now cover approximately three quarters of the Caribbean’s reef area, up from about a fifth in the 1970s. Flatter reefs are less effective in protecting coastal settlements from storm swells and tidal surges, and are also less hospitable to biodiversity than healthy complex reefs, with repercussions for the fishing industry:

“Lack of … refuges for species with commercial importance, such as lobsters and large fishes may compromise the long-term sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities,” the report said.

Complex reefs also act as natural buffers, and their disappearance means that human coastal settlements are at increased risk from extreme weather events, such as more numerous and severe hurricanes, projected to occur due to climate change .

ACT’s biodiversity recommendations looked at the threats to ecosystems associated with climate change, and our upcoming report on Extreme Weather Events is due out in early September.


ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford featured in Globe & Mail

A new Globe & Mail article, ‘Academics launch unique approaches to climate change,’ featuring an interview with ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford, highlights ACT as Canada’s only university organization addressing the policy aspects of climate change.

“We need to reduce our emissions and show other nations how that can be done – but also plan for the inevitable effects of warming, which span everything from health risks such as the spread to tropical diseases, to impacts of extreme weather and increased storms, to problems with our crop and water supplies,” says Harford. “It’s about increasing resilience and learning how to think about everything in new ways.”

The article notes that the challenges of dealing with climate change also present the opportunity to be creative when making smart adaptation choices, in order to benefit both the environment and economy.

“All you need is conviction and the right kind of information and you can make a difference. You can affect the future if you have the courage of your convictions,” Harford adds.

Link to the full article here.


What’s the connection between potholes and penguins?

Recent criticism that Canada’s municipal leaders are wasting time discussing issues that are “a little far afield from matters of city hall”, at an upcoming leader’s conference in Whistler, BC is missing the point.

The keynote speaker for the conference, Jean Lemaire, Quebecois biologist and oceanographer, will make a presentation on the impacts of climate change on the endangered ecosystem of Antarctica, the “last unspoiled continent on the planet.”

Some claim the conference’s agenda should focus on more important issues such as mending pothole-ridden roads. But the fact is climate change is inextricably linked to these municipal matters.

Many municipal problems – including infrastructure damage such as road surfaces buckling in extreme heat or collapsing in heavy rainstorms and producing problems such as potholes, at the very least – are caused or exacerbated by the increase in extreme weather events we can expect to see as a result of climate change.

Not to mention other serious municipal concerns such as sea-level rise affecting ports and waterfront property; health risks such as the migration of tropical disease; and widespread impacts on biodiversity – including the spread of pests like the mountain pine beetle currently partly responsible for the extremely elevated fire risk in areas such as 100 Mile House, BC.

So before we dismiss those pesky penguins in the Antarctic as a niche interest, it may be good to recognize them as an indicator that our municipal potholes are likely going to get worse if we don’t take action to adapt to, and mitigate, the consequences of climate change we’re already experiencing.

ACT’s second report – on Extreme Weather Events, authored by Dr. Gordon McBean of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction – is scheduled for release in early September.


Unusually dry spring increases BC firefighting costs by double

An unusually dry spring in BC has caused firefighting costs to nearly double in comparison to the same period last year, with the BC forest service reporting 368 wildfires between April 1 and May 30 compared to 280 in 2008.

The problem isn’t cheap: fighting the fires has cost the province $5.93 million fighting them so far, compared to $3.29 million for the same period last year.

Former 100 Mile House Mayor Donna Barnett attended ACT’s Biodiversity conference in the spring of 2008, and presented on the hazards that trees killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle pose to communities like 100 Mile House, including vulnerability to wildfire.

The ripple effects of this climate change-forced, devastating infestation are being strongly felt through issues such as disruption of the forestry industry, and the increased risk of wildfire due to changing precipitation patterns and higher temperatures combining to cause tinderbox conditions.

ACT publishes its second set of policy recommendations – on Extreme Weather – in September 2009.


Unforeseen consequences of climate change: land rising as Alaska’s glaciers melt

Global climate disruption is causing unforeseen impacts in Juneau, Alaska: As warming temperatures cause glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate, land that is being relieved of billions of tons of weight is ascending so quickly that rising sea levels cannot keep pace.

Residents of affected areas along the coastline have observed waterfront property change rapidly, as land has risen as much as 10 feet in little more than 200 years, according to a 2007 report “Climate Change: Predicted Impacts on Juneau,” by Dr. Eran Hood, a hydrologist at the University of Alaska Southeast. Scientists predict that further warming and melting could cause the land to rise more than three feet by 2100.

The resulting changes are leading to a number of complex ecological and environmental challenges. Falling water tables are causing salmon streams and wetlands to dry out. Shifting property boundaries are instigating arguments among residents over who owns the exposed land, and how it should be used. Glacial melt waters carrying sediment have silted up channels that were once navigable by wildlife, recreational boaters, and kayakers.

Mayor Bruce Botelho of Juneau convened a special panel of experts in 2007 to discuss the impacts of rebounding land in the region. Discussion is still ongoing as to how best manage the changing coastal landscape.


Climate change #1 health risk of 21st century

A new report by University College London and The Lancet, dubbed the ‘Stern Report for Health’, warns that we have seriously underestimated health risks associated with global climate disruption.

“The big message of this report is that climate change is a health issue affecting billions of people, not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation,” says Professor Anthony Costello of the UCL Institute for Global Health, and lead author of the report. “The impacts will be felt not just in the UK, but all around the world – and not just in some distant future but in our lifetimes and those of our children.”

According to the report, tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are likely to migrate as temperatures increase. Extreme weather events, similar to the 2003 heat wave that caused over 70,000 deaths in Europe, will occur more frequently.

Costello states there is an urgent need for health to play a larger role in the climate change debate, and calls for a major overhaul of global health systems to ensure infrastructure is prepared to cope with the coming impacts.

He also notes that ‘rich nations’ are not as prepared to handle extreme weather events as we might think; for instance, many hospital facilities in industrialized countries lack experience in managing outbreaks of tropical diseases like malaria.

The report also highlights health benefits associated with a low-carbon lifestyle, which can “reduce obesity, heart and lung disease, diabetes and stress”, and says this is a concept governments should do more to promote.

“We must develop win–win situations whereby we mitigate and adapt to climate change and at the same time significantly improve human health and wellbeing,” says Costello.

BC’s carbon tax was recently rated the most effective climate policy of its kind in Canada. Though the policy was criticized for lacking national reach, and is only environmentally effective in the medium turn, it still managed to score 22 points higher than the next best policy – hailing from Quebec.

ACT’s mandate features development of understanding around the combination of adaptation and mitigation. Our third session – on energy production and distribution in the low carbon economy – kicks off in the fall of 2009. ACT is also planning a Health session.


Food security study warns of climate change impact on global food supply

A new study of the effects of climate change on global agriculture, published by University of Washington climate researcher David Battisti in the journal Science, voices concerns about a global, “perpetual food crisis.” The study shows that climate disruption may cause massive, simultaneous crop failures in many regions as early as 2040.

Findings based on IPPC climate modeling suggest that the worst heat waves and floods of the past are likely to become more frequent events. According to the study, these weather pattern changes could affect yields by 20 to 40%, with disastrous consequences – particularly in the tropics and subtropics where many people are already malnourished.

“For me, this is the strongest argument that either you have to do something about global warming or you need to actually figure out how you’re going to deal with these kind of permanent reductions in yield,” Dr. Battisti said, warning that climate change’s effect on agriculture is likely to be an even larger threat to humanity than the potential submerging of coastal cities due to melting Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

Battisti notes that one way to prevent crop failure would be to breed varieties better able to withstand higher temperatures, but warns this could take decades. It’s clear that we should consider a variety of adaptation methods that will be complementary with the agriculture industry’s current practices.

ACT’s fifth session, Crop and Food Supply, will look at the fact that steady increases in summer temperatures, combined with shifting hydrological regimes, are already causing crops to fail in many countries, threatening well-being and economies on a massive scale. In Canada, planting practices from wheat to wine are already shifting, with some areas becoming less hospitable and others opening up. The session will combine current research with the findings from the Biodiversity, Extreme Events, Energy and Water sessions to explore policies and practices that will assist us to adapt food production methods now and in the long-term.

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