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PARC was recently invited to present on the impacts of climate change on Alberta at a Public Forum sponsored by the Edmonton Journal. Below is the article that subsequently appeared in the Wednesday, November 01, 2006 Journal.

PREPARING FOR A VERY DIFFERENT WORLD
Global warming will have a profound effect on this planet as temperatures rise and rivers dry up. If it is to be stopped, we must act now

By James Baxter, Freelance, Edmonton Journal

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 centre.

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 forms.

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 energy development.

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."


 

 

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