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Warmest winter on record in Canada

Interview with Gwynne Dyer – author of ‘Climate Wars’

It’s official. Canada has just experienced it’s warmest and driest winter on record. Environment Canada scientists report that winter 2009/10 was 4 C above normal, making it the warmest since nationwide records were first kept in 1948. David Philips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada said “It’s beyond shocking.” Records have been shattered from “coast to coast to coast.”

Here in Montreal, things are no different. At least 2 days last week set records for the warmest ever recorded for those dates. 

This has, of course, all resulted in a deafening silence from climate change skeptics who are still screaming about the record snowfalls in the northeastern U.S. and the deep freeze across some of Europe this winter as proof that climate change is a hoax. Trouble is, it’s not just in Canada where temperatures are high. It turns out the winter of 2009/10 could be the warmest on record globally as well.

To be fair, we can’t say for sure that the unseasonably warm temperatures across the country and the paucity of snowfall (including at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver) are the result of human-caused global warming. No single weather event can either prove or disprove climate change. To suggest otherwise, as skeptics (and some environmentalists) are wont to do, betrays a cynical inability to distinguish between climate and weather. 

What we can say, however, is that scientific models have long-predicted exactly this kind of variability: more hot and cold extremes, more precipitation in some areas, more drought in others, and so on. So in fact, the recent cold temperatures in Europe and the snowstorms in Washington D.C. are exactly consistent with climate change modeling and may even make a stronger case for the reality of anthropogenic climate change. 

As the meteorologist Jeff Masters points out in his excellent blog at Weather Underground, the two major storms that hit Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., this winter are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded. The chance of that happening in the same winter is incredibly unlikely.

In any case, what is important to keep in mind is the long-term climatic trends, not single weather events; and the long-term trends point to consistent but gradual warming. The past decade was the warmest on record and 8 of the warmest 10 years ever recorded have all occurred since 2001. Arctic sea ice is melting at a rate that is surpassing even scientists’ worse case scenarios. We’ve seen worsening droughts across the globe; the pine beetle has been ravaging forests in B.C because winters are no longer cold enough to kill it off; the list goes on. Yet we still debate and argue over whether climate change is happening and, even if it is, whether we should do anything about it or if mitigation action will be too expensive.

Gwynne Dyer has a particularly interesting take on this subject. For his recent book, Climate Wars, he travelled the world speaking with military leaders, scientists and politicians about the geopolitical and security implications of climate change and he says he returned “very worried”. Climate Wars offers a rather terrifying glimpse of the future, when climate change forces countries into desperate struggles for resources and perhaps even survival. 

In our interview, Gwynne discusses the current state of climate change negotiations and the position of the Canadian government in the wake of the failed Copenhagen climate summit. 

[Click here to hear Gwynne Dyer’s book presentation at McGill University from last year.]

Categories: Climate breakdown
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