Thursday, January 31, 2013

Another warm winter demonstrates economic risks

One of the confounding factors in climate change is how it works differently in different places. In the United States, whose politics and economy weigh so heavily on world action, it seems to mean less. Global warming is stronger the further you get from the equator, so we see more effects than our neighbours to the south. They are getting hotter, drier summers but that’s weather they’re used to, so it seems less notable. And where winter is basically a nuisance, a milder winter is seen as a blessing.
For us it’s another story. Winter is not only a fact of life; it’s deeply ingrained in our culture, our psyche, and our economy. Winter industries drive much of our income; skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling and ice fishing are major economic drivers. A warmer winter can hinder or even destroy many long-established business models.
It’s an ecological problem, too. A long, cold winter kills off many insect pests naturally, pests that are learning to survive our milder winters. A false spring like this week’s risks fooling trees into putting out buds too soon, only to have them frozen a week later. Last year it wreaked havoc on our local apple crop; this year we may see the same.
Even our kids face disappointment, as toboggan hills turn to mud, and traditional snow and ice activities at winter festivals get swamped by rain and slush.
In decades past, the ice harvest from Kempenfelt Bay kept our rail link profitable, with freeze and thaw dates that have been carefully charted for over a century. They tell an undeniable story of a steadily warming climate, as the number of ice days has dropped by more than a month’s worth.
And although the tropics see the least atmospheric warming, they get the greatest sea level rise, threatening the very existence of tiny island nations and huge cities alike. Due to an unlucky twist of geography, the country that most needs to get the message of climate change (the United States) is situated where it will least feel the effects.
One would think the recently increased damage from hurricanes would be a wake-up call, and in some respects it has been. Still, much of the impact gets lost in the tug-of-war between states over federal emergency funding that turns ecological news into selfish finger-pointing or partisan political spats.
We must not let this discourage us, however. There is much we can do to reduce climate-warming emissions, so watch this column for further suggestions on how families, local businesses, global corporations, municipalities and higher government can each do their part, alone or together, to protect the world we’ve adapted to live in. It’s the only one we have!
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Climate-changing emissions can be controlled"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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