Climate change will have some of its most devastating effects on Canada's arctic.
The University of Calgary and the Arctic Institute of North America co-sponsored a panel discussion on climate change and Canada's north Wed., Jan. 18. The panel was the first in a series of events launching the Frobisher Community Symposium, which will explore topics relevant to Frobisher, a new play put on by Calgary Opera and the Banff Centre about the explorer of the northwest passage.
"There's a lot of forecast that the arctic changes will be [felt] more than anywhere else in the world," said U of C geography professor Shawn Marshall. "This is because it's a world of snow and ice and that introduces amplifiers. If there's a four degree warming in Alberta there's likely to be an eight degree warming in the arctic. When you remove the snow and ice you replace it with darker land surface, like ocean, which absorbs energy. [The arctic] is one of the wildcards in how much things are going to change this century."
Marshall explained there will be a lot of change no matter what we do.
"We need to seriously start investing in new ways to power our society, new ways to harvest and harness energy that have less impact on the climate," he said. "These things are all going to take a while so things are going to warm and melt for a lot of this. Some of it will be positive; there's no question some of it will be tough."
The most constructive thing to do is think about what parts of climate change are an opportunity, said Marshall.
"We will lose some species we already have," he said. "The polar bear gets lots of attention but some of the smaller birds and species have already changed. Other more southern species are starting to come in and occupy that territory so its not like its all going to a collapse. It's an ongoing evolution where the ecosystems are changing, there are some winners and some losers."
Marshall said renewable energies like wind and solar power are under used but noted both techniques have a hard cap on them and cannot fill all our energy needs.
"We can certainty build up in those areas," said Marshall. "The arctic is a great place for wind power. It's a broad, flat, windy plane, but it's so far off the grid people aren't even thinking about it yet."
Marshall said that as a rich economy, Alberta has an opportunity to become a leader in renewable energy, but stressed that all countries-especially those that are the biggest users of energy-have a responsibility to reduce their environmental footprint.
"It's not clear who's going to pay for India, Bangladesh and even up-and-coming countries like China in terms of impact in typhoon or drought frequency and the potential agriculture failures that we'll get sometime this century," said Marshall. "We need a stronger redesigned, reinvigorated [United Nations] in my view, because these are really global problems."
Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann said climate change is the most critical issue facing this generation.
"It would mean a shift in economy but we need to be making that shift, both because fossil fuels damage our health, and
because on a global level we are contributing very significantly to changing the climate," he said, noting the biggest barrier to making policy that combats global warming is the lack of political will.
"Everyone has a responsibility to be involved in the political process because we all benefit and we all suffer as a result of political decisions," said Dr. Swann. "The slowness of political change and political leadership is because not enough people care to get involved in the political process. They think democracy is voting every four years, well that's not going to do it. It's not going to move the political representatives to do the right thing. They have to feel the pressure from people that this is what we think is important and this is what we want you to do or we're going to get someone else in there who will."
Another major barrier Dr. Swann addressed was the industry lobby working to slow change.
"Governments will lead, industries will follow," said Dr. Swann. "What the industry most needs is clarity and a decision so they can start to make their planning for the transition."
The U of C EcoClub and the Students' Union are hosting a Global Warming Week Feb. 5–9. Events will include an interactive climate change exhibit, screenings of both An Inconvenient Truth and The Denial Machine, a day of action where students will be encouraged to call their elected representatives for action against climate change and an end-of the-world-party.