Letter: A synopsis of the climate change chronology in the wake of Greta Thunberg

Gore Bay can look forward to more drought in the summer

To the Expositor:

Around the world students are mobilizing to protect their future. Worldwide climate strikes and demonstrations began September 20 and continued until September 27. They were led by youth, in the largest climate demonstrations ever, to pressure governments to act to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is part of the Thunberg-inspired series of Friday school strikes that have been taking place around the world. Sudbury student Sophia Mather, who has been participating in climate action and Friday strikes for a year, has travelled to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of Greta Thunberg, for the activities there. 

Climate strikers hit the streets en masse around the world on Friday, September 20, the first day of week-long actions. Starting in cities like Sydney, Australia, then in New Delhi where air pollution is among the worst in the world, to London, England, and many cities in Europe, and finally to cities across North America, young people took time from school and adults took time off work to protest the lack of action on climate change. Strikes took place in over 150 countries and the organizers estimated over four million people participated. 

The youth protests were inspired by Greta Thunberg, the climate activist who famously said, “you can’t deal with a crisis unless you treat it as a crisis.” Speaking at the US Congress, she told them, “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists,” referring to the Intergovernmental Special Report on Global Warming issued by the United Nations. That report warns of the dangers of heating the planet by more than 1.5 °C. The industrial revolution has already caused an average one degree of warming, and more is inevitable because there is a lag time between the emission of greenhouse gases into the air and its effects on the world temperature. Just as a kettle of water doesn’t boil immediately, the world temperature doesn’t rise immediately.

The United Nations organized the Paris Agreement in 2015, by which most countries pledged to take actions to limit global warming to 2°C, but all countries including Canada have failed to follow through with enough action. Canada is one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emitters in the world. The Canadian government’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030, compared to 2005 emissions, but many experts agree that more measures are urgently needed to meet that goal. Meanwhile, last year the United Nations warned that the effects of climate change will be much more devastating with 2 degrees of warming as opposed to 1.5 degrees. To do that, worldwide emissions must be cut by 45 percent by 2030, compared to 2005. 

The most dramatic effects of climate change are being felt by coastal cities, where storm surges and flooding make the headlines, but few places will be immune. Al Douglas of the Climate Risk Institute says Ontario’s climate has already increased by 1.4°C between 1948 and 2012. There is a shift toward more rain and less snow, and an increase in extremes. 

Looking 60 years or so from now into the future, if we continue on the current emissions path, their research shows the effects will be increases in floods, increased potential for drought and fires, and a decrease in ice cover leading to more evaporation from our lakes in winter, among other effects. The Institute has looked specifically at Gore Bay, where the mean annual total precipitation will increase, but the “water budget,” that is, rain minus evaporation, will decrease, meaning, in effect, more drought in the summer.

Jan McQuay