My documentary on the impacts of climate change in the Greenlandic village of Uummannaq aired in December on the Deutsche Welle international radio program Living Planet. I recorded and produced this report while working as the on-board journalist during the 2013 Students on Ice Arctic Expedition.
Located on a small island off the Greenland coast, 600 km (372 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, Uummannaq is one of many Inuit communities in the North that are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Not only is the massive Greenlandic ice sheet melting, sea ice is starting to disappear too. This is causing serious difficulties for those working in the local fishing industry who depend on reliable sea ice conditions for their daily catch.
Traditionally, fishers here worked on a dog sled on the sea ice in winter and by boat when the ice melted in the summer. But now, as the ice is melting earlier and becoming less stable, there is a period of several months in the spring when the ice is not strong enough to hold dog sleds but can also not be penetrated by small fishing boats. This is leading to a host of social and economic problems for the small community.
This week, Deutsche Welle Living Planet broadcast the first of my audio diaries from the Students on Ice 2013 Arctic Expedition. This first audio postcard captures the reflections of Canadian high school student Gerrit Wesselink as he travels up the western coast of Greenland and across the Davis Strait to Baffin Island and the eastern Canadian Arctic. Gerrit talks about his experiences on the trip, which include polar bear sightings, zodiac cruises in a field of giant icebergs and witnessing first-hand the impacts of climate change in the Arctic.
Click here to listen to the audio diary.
DW Living Planet is an award-winning international program that explores environmental issues facing the world today and analyzes environmental policies, new technologies, innovative projects and the state of the planet’s environment.
This week is our last show before the summer break! I’m taking a few months off to recharge the batteries so we’re ready to come back strong in September for an all new season. On today’s program, we’re going to hear an interview from our friends at Generation Anthropocene who talked recently with international law expert Andrew Guzman. He has taken a step back from analyzing climate change in terms of precise temperature changes, melting glaciers and meters of sea level rise and breaks down all the ways climate change will affect humanity, from environmental refugees to changing disease patterns to social conflict. His new book, Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change, illustrates how nearly all of our human systems interact with climate and will feel the effects of even a 2 degrees C rise in average global temperatures.
We’ll also have our usual update from Kathy of Ecology Ottawa on local environmental events and campaigns. This week’s listing includes the Great Glebe Green Garage Sale happening on May 25. It’s a huge annual event in Ottawa that you won’t want to miss.
Right click here to download the whole program.
Interesting times indeed on the environmental front these days and the summer ahead should be an eventful one. Earlier this week the world passed an ominous milestone when atmospheric concentrations of CO2 passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold for the first time in human history. That’s right folks, when the industrial revolution began, the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere was roughly 280 ppm but after a couple hundred years of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil, we have emitted enough carbon into the air to push CO2 levels to 400 ppm. The last time the world saw this level of CO2 in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today. Many scientists believe these conditions are expected to return in time, with devastating consequences for civilization, unless emissions of CO2 from the burning of coal, gas and oil are rapidly curtailed. But despite increasingly severe warnings from scientists and a major economic recession, global emissions have continued to soar unchecked.
The world’s governments have agreed to keep the rise in global average temperature to 2 degrees C, the level beyond which some scientists feel catastrophic warming could become unstoppable. We’ve already seen about 1 degree of warming but the International Energy Agency warned in 2012 that on current emissions trends the world will see 6C of warming, a level scientists warn would lead to chaos. With no slowing of emissions seen to date, there is already mounting pressure on the UN summit in Paris in 2015, which is the deadline to settle a binding international treaty to curb emissions.
Writing in the Guardian newspaper, the excellent columnist George Monbiot called the 400 ppm milestone a moment of symbolic significance on the road to idiocy. It represents “a profound failure of politics, in which democracy has quietly been supplanted by plutocracy. Without a widespread reform of campaign finance, lobbying and influence-peddling and the systematic corruption they promote, our chances of preventing climate breakdown are close to zero.”
Meanwhile back here in Canada, this comes at a time when the voters in B.C. have returned the Liberal government of Christy Clark to power, much to everyone’s surprise. The NDP, who just about everyone expected to win the election, had opposed both the proposed Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan tar sands pipelines from Alberta to the BC coast. The Liberal government has not ruled these projects out. Instead Clark has set some stringent conditions that must be met before her government will give its support, at least to the Gateway proposal. Let’s remember that the production of tar sands crude is estimated to emit 14 to 20 percent more planet-warming gases than the conventional oil that is typically found in U.S. refineries.
Will the pipeline projects now go ahead? And what about Keystone XL? A decision by President Obama on this project is expected in the coming months. Against this backdrop, we hear an interview today with international law expert Andrew Guzman, courtesy of the excellent podcast Generation Anthropocene, in which Guzman discusses his new book ‘Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change‘.
Sometimes it helps to remind ourselves of the basic science of climate change and why scientists are so certain that the planet is warming and humans are to blame. David Roberts is a climate change and environment columnist at Grist. I’m not so sure about the somewhat distracting musical soundtrack in the background but it’s worth a look in any case.
“We are stuck between the impossible and the unthinkable. For the rest of your life, your job is to make the impossible possible.”
This week on Earthgauge Radio, we’re talking about President Obama’s new commitment to climate change, the growing problem of environmental “refugees”, and the environmental dimensions of the Idle No More aboriginal movement. We have 3 interviews on today’s show:
- Lisa Friedman, Deputy Editor of ClimateWire
- Stephen Hazell, environmental lawyer and the founder of Ecovision Law
- John Smol, biology professor at Queen’s University and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change
U.S. President Barack Obama’s inaugural address last week gave special prominence to taking action on climate change. Will this translate into concrete action and what does this mean for Canada? Today we take a look at what Obama can actually accomplish and what he won’t be able to do given the fierce resistance of some members of Congress and of course the fossil fuel lobby in Washington. We speak to journalist Lisa Friedman of ClimateWire about the international climate change situation, what Obama is up against in the coming four years, and the growing problem of climate and environmental “refugees”.
Lisa Friedman interview (right click here to download):
Also on the program today Earthgauge contributor Juanita Bawagan gives us a primer on the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the overhaul of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It’s been said that these and other fundamental changes to environmental legislation and regulations in Canada have been at least partially responsible for fuelling the Idle No More movement that has galvanized Aboriginal Canadians right across the country. Juanita will explain why many First Nations are so upset with what the Harper government has done to environmental protections in Canada.
Also on the program we have our usual update from Kathy of Ecology Ottawa on local environmental events and campaigns.
Earthgauge Radio airs Thursday mornings from 7-8 AM on CKCU 93.1 in Ottawa. Podcasts on iTunes and earthgauge.ca. Stream live on www.ckcufm.com. Check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EarthgaugeRadio where we post environmental news stories from around the world.
Right click here to download today’s show.
Ottawa and other cities in eastern Canada have been experiencing abnormally cold temperatures this past week. Last Wednesday was the coldest day in 8 years dropping down to a downright bone-chilling -30 degrees C. Meanwhile Britain is suffering through some of it’s worst winter snow storms in years. How can this be happening when climate scientists tell us the world is warming?
The first thing to remember is that there is a difference between climate and weather. What we are interested in are long-term trends not isolated weather events. And the long term trends are clear. The last decade saw average global temperatures that were the warmest ever recorded. 2012 was the warmest ever in the continental U.S. Extreme weather such as drought, heat waves, flooding and wildfires are also on the rise. Then there is the Arctic ice cap, which shrank to it’s smallest size ever recorded this past summer.
Second, as it turns out, the recent spate of cold weather may very well be related to climate change. Here’s how: by changing the temperature balance between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, rapid Arctic warming is altering the course of the jet stream, which steers weather systems from west to east around the hemisphere. The Arctic has been warming about twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, due to a combination of human emissions of greenhouse gases and unique feedbacks built into the Arctic climate system.
A recent study, by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University and Stephen Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ties rapid Arctic climate change to high-impact, extreme weather events in the U.S. and Europe. The jet stream, the study says, is becoming “wavier,” with steeper troughs and higher ridges. Weather systems are progressing more slowly, raising the chances for long-duration extreme events, like droughts, floods, and heat waves.
“[The] tendency for weather to hang around longer is going to favor extreme weather conditions that are related to persistent weather patterns,” said Francis, the study’s lead author.
Check out the video above to see a visual depiction of how the jet stream works and how it is being altered by human-caused climate change.
Climate change is upon us folks and it’s only going to get worse. Yes, events like the current U.S. drought, which is being called one of the worst in recent memory, cannot be conclusively linked to climate change but it is entirely consistent with what climate scientists have been predicting as the world warms up. And the more we hear scientists talk about the desperate need to decrease global carbon emissions, the more they seem to go in the exact opposite direction.
Now a new report published Wednesday by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) says that global carbon dioxide emissions rose 3 percent to 34 billion tonnes in 2011, undermining a U.N. goal to limit the rise in global average temperatures to 2C above industrial levels by 2050.
According to the report, nations cannot emit more than 1.5 trillion tonnes of CO2 between 2000 and 2050 to meet the threshold recommended by a U.N. scientific panel. We’ve already pumped roughly 450 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere since 2000 so we’re already overshooting our limits. And keep in mind that the report, by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the E.U.’s Joint Research Centre, does not include carbon dioxide emitted by deforestation, forest fires and other land-use related activities.
The international day of action to Connect the Dots between extreme weather and climate change took place on May 5 in locations all around the world, including many events here in Canada. Check out this great video from 350.org, which captures the highlights of some of these events.
As Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, said in this article in the Guardian last week, “new data (pdf) released last month by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities show that a lot of Americans are growing far more concerned about climate change, precisely because they are drawing the links between freaky weather, a climate kicked off-kilter by a fossil-fuel guzzling civilization, and their own lives. After a year with a record number of multibillion dollar weather disasters, seven in ten Americans now believe that “global warming is affecting the weather.”
Have we reached a tipping point at which people are finally starting to “connect the dots”? Perhaps but there is still much work ahead.
“A new study from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research suggests that a transformation of the world’s economies or a limit to economic growth may be needed to curb the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.”
This comes from a recent article about the fundamental incompatibility of an economic system based on endless growth and the problem of climate change. And therein lies the fundamental paradox of our times. Our modern, industrial, capitalist economy depends upon endless growth to function. We celebrate every uptick in the growth rate and fret when growth is “sluggish”. Yet as this study demonstrates, more growth leads to more greenhouse gas emissions and consequently an accelerated rate of climate change. So we can have one or the other, it seems, but not both. What will it be? More growth or less climate change?
“The researchers found that for each trillion in U.S. dollars that global GDP deviates from the trend, there is an accompanying deviation in CO2 levels of about half a part per million (ppm), reported LiveScience.
Noting that the study “more or less” echoes 1972’s “The Limits to Growth,” author and environmental activist Bill McKibben told HuffPost in an email, “We should change the meaning of ‘business-as-usual’ to focus on building more resilient, localized, community-focused economies, instead of the sprawling ones that for the last few decades have been awarding their bounty to the 1%.”
Check out this story from Reuters. It seems scientists have detected a clear change in salinity of the world’s oceans and have found that the cycle that drives rainfall and evaporation has intensified more than thought because of global warming.
Why is this significant? Current rainfall patterns are expected to intensify as the planet warms, yet this research concludes that the impacts may be worse than previously believed, leading to even more extreme droughts and flooding in vulnerable areas in the years to come. Here’s an excerpt:
Temperature data shows the planet heated up by 0.5 deg C between 1950-2000. But climate models suggest the world is on track to warm by 3 deg C by the end of the century unless the current growth of greenhouse gas emissions is quickly halted.
A warming of that magnitude would mean the water cycle intensifying by up to 24 percent, with wet regions getting wetter and dry regions drier.
Some ocean regions are saltier, meaning less rainfall and others are fresher, meaning high rainfall, making salinity measurements a good way to measure changes in rainfall patterns.