Despite heavy rains and
extreme storms, Canada's bread basket will become bone dry over
the next 80 years, say researchers from the Saskatchewan-based Prairie
Adaptation Research Collaborative.
One of the expected effects of rising global temperatures will
be higher precipitation -- often coming in torrential downpours
-- but it will be nowhere near enough to offset the dramatically
higher levels of evaporation that are predicted, says the research
And the effects will be profound: water levels in glacier-fed rivers
like the North Saskatchewan are expected to drop and the rivers
could even run dry at times in summer months; the boreal forest
will dry out and recede northward; lakes will dry up; fish stocks
will decline; natural grasslands that are currently home to a wide
variety of wildlife will become arid and inhospitable to many life
For humans, water will become scarce and, at times, even rationed.
Smog days, like those that often choke eastern cities, will become
increasingly common as wildfires become more frequent and harder
to control. Freezing rain and sleet will happen more often, which
can carry potentially heavy economic and infrastructure costs, as
well as more deaths and injuries in vehicle accidents.
The notion of a mounting environmental catastrophe used to be
contentious, with scientists pointing to evidence that supported
both sides. Recently, that debate appears to have moved from being
one of whether, to when and how bad will it be?
That was one of the main messages from the recent University of
Alberta/Edmonton Journal policy forum: Alberta and Climate Change:
Leading or Lagging Behind? It is no longer a question of if climate
change is happening, but how fast and how Albertans can mitigate
some of the effects.
Norman Henderson, director of PARC,
told the audience that many of these problems are already starting
to be felt. Comparing the direction of the climate to that of a
supertanker, Henderson said changing course now would be very slow.
Even if humans took immediate and drastic steps to cut CO2 emissions,
many of the changes to the climate will still occur.
By 2020, he said, the average temperature will have climbed two
degrees above 1980 levels. The warmer temperature means more rain
and snow. But due to higher termperatures and increased evaporation,
it will seem like 10 centimetres less precipitation per year. By
2050, it will be four degress hotter, and the corresponding reduction
in the amount of water in the soil will be the equivalent of between
18 and 24 centimetres less rain. And by 2080, within the expected
lifetimes of many children, the temperatures will be about six degrees
hotter and the effect will be equivalent to 33 centimetres less
rainfall per year.
Finally, Henderson noted, some of the effects of a hotter, drier
Alberta will be offset by technology and adaptation, but poorer
communities, especially First Nations and conventional small farms,
will be hardest hit.
Henderson says Alberta should immediately cap carbon emissions
from the oilsands, introduce carbon credits that could be traded
on an exchange and take conservation measures. It should also slow
development of the oilsands and take time to set up a system for
converting petro-dollars into new technology and prairie-environment-friendly
Europe's oil-producing nations are already well along this path
and Alberta, with its tremendous wealth, should be too, says Henderson.
"If Alberta can't step back and get it right, or is afraid
to do it, it bodes very poorly for the planet."