7 climate issues affecting Canadians right now

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Published: June 19, 2020 · Updated: July 14, 2020

A white-person's hand cupping harmful algae bloom on what appears to be an aquaculture pond or lake Trieu Tuan / Shutterstock

It’s no secret that weather in Canada has gotten weird.

Temperatures are climbing, heavy rainfalls are on the rise, and freak snowstorms are becoming an unwelcome guest during patio season—and these strange weather patterns can be traced back to climate change. That means that unreliable forecasts for long-weekend weather, while annoying, are the least of our worries. The simple fact is that Canada’s climate is warming at twice the global rate. And while those of us who aren’t huddled along the US border might welcome longer summers and a few extra degrees of warmth during the winter, experts warn that the effects of climate change in Canada are deeper and more dire than many of us realize.

So to help move the dial, we’ve partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation to examine some of the effects that we, as both cottagers and Canadians, can expect to see more of if we don’t learn what we can do about it and take action.

Unpredictable storms and spring flooding

The increased ferocity and number of storms will lead to more spring floods, as we’ve recently seen in Ontario’s cottage country and eastern regions, and more recently in Quebec with storm surges around the St. Lawrence River. And according to the Canadian Hurricane Centre, climate change also leads to more hurricanes hitting Canada’s eastern coast. Hurricane season extends from June to November, when the Atlantic’s typically frigid waters are warm enough for tropical cyclones. But with above-average water temperatures come above-average storms.

More severe heat waves

Summer heat waves, which occur when the temperature rises above 30 degrees Celsius for three or more days, affect public health, power generation, and food production, and they’re especially dangerous for older populations. In many cases, extreme heat can be deadly, as we saw in 2018 when nearly 100 people died in Quebec during one of the worst heat waves on Canadian record. That’s a sobering fact, but the good news is that by limiting average temperature increases to just 2 degrees Celsius (the precise goal set forward by the Paris Agreement, signed by Canada and 193 other countries), thousands of heat-related deaths could be prevented.

Increased wildfire damage

In addition to heat-related deaths in vulnerable populations, lengthier and more frequent heat waves make Canadian forests more susceptible to devastating wildfires, as we’ve recently seen in Alberta and BC. Increased temperatures dry out trees, making them perfect kindling for wildfires that affect wildlife and—as we saw in Fort McMurray in 2016—can destroy thousands of homes. But drought-stricken trees are just part of the problem. With warmer weather comes a longer fire season—and more lightning strikes, which cause more than half of the wildfires in Canada.

Threats to fresh water

Canada has more fresh water than every other country on Earth combined, but that bounty is in jeopardy because of massive blooms of toxic algae in lakes. They’ve always been present, but these algae are appearing in greater numbers because of warming temperatures. While algae blooms are an annual occurrence in shallow, warmer lakes like Huron and Erie, they’ve been getting bigger and more destructive each year since scientists started tracking them in the early 2000s. And warmer weather, along with overwhelmed sewer systems and fertilizer runoff from more frequent spring storms, is the main culprit.

Troubled forests

Nearly 15 million people from around the globe visit BC every year. And one glance at a postcard explains the draw. The tranquil coastline, rugged mountains, and majestic forests are sights to behold. But starting in the 1990s, one visitor to BC’s forests was the invasive pine beetle, which, because of warmer weather, has outpaced the trees’ natural ability to defend themselves and wreaked havoc on more than 18 million hectares of the province’s forests. And that’s just one example of how climate change is hurting Canada’s trees. While boreal forest animal, bird, and insect species migrate north as the climate changes, trees can’t shift as quickly. Since they can’t keep up with the changes in climate, we’ll see serious changes in forests’ ability to grow and regenerate.

More cases of Lyme disease

If you’ve been out walking in the woods lately, you might want to check for ticks. Blacklegged ticks—and especially their immature nymphs in the spring—can be carriers of Lyme disease, which can lead to severe symptoms ranging from migraines to heart problems and liver inflammation if left untreated. And unfortunately for Canadians, since increased temperatures have helped blacklegged ticks migrate north, incidences of Lyme disease in Canada increased from 144 in 2009 to 2,025 in 2016, with 88 percent of those cases occurring in Ontario.

Unpredictable growing seasons

Farming requires a time-tested wisdom, particularly in knowing the planting dates for specific crops. But climate change poses a major challenge for farmers, who are now struggling to plan their growing seasons. Crops require consistent seasonal patterns, and the unpredictable weather caused by climate change has negative consequences for food production. It also makes it harder for farmers to predict which pests they’ll deal with during the lifecycle of a crop.

So what can we do?

As Canadians, we all love talking about the weather. But we can turn that talk into action by taking radical steps to protect the environment we care about. Because what we do for this planet, we do for ourselves.

Become radically Canadian and make a difference by signing up to be a monthly donor to the David Suzuki Foundation today.

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