The Climate Barometer: Learning from our past

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October 04, 2021

Our planet is heating up, causing tremendous upheaval for life as we know it.
Every Monday, The Climate Barometer from delves into
climate science and looks at what life on a changing planet will mean


From roads and buildings to public utilities to our homes, Canada is not prepared for the realities of climate change.

That's the conclusion of a new report from the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices (CICC), which says it offers the most comprehensive look yet at the costs of climate change for Canada's infrastructure.

Some of those costs are already evident; just ask anyone who lost their house to a wildfire or is at risk of losing it to erosion, or anyone who has been affected by flooding due to a sewer system that is not prepared for lengthy torrential downpours.

That's only an initial wave, though. The CICC report forecasts all manner of climate-related impacts on our infrastructure, from shorter ice road seasons to unreliable electrical services to hospitals being rendered unusable during extreme weather events.

By some estimates, it will take more than $250 billion to adapt all of Canada's infrastructure to the expected climate of the future. That sort of adaptation is starting to come to the attention of governments and businesses, but the money set aside for it thus far is nowhere near that amount.

Beyond that, there are data gaps that make it difficult to paint a full picture of how climate change will affect our infrastructure. For example, the CICC estimates that there are more than 500,000 buildings across the country that are at risk for flooding, but are not identified by any existing government flood maps.

To combat these issues, the CICC issued four recommendations, calling on governments to collect more accurate data about climate-related risks, require owners of infrastructure to disclose the climate risks their holdings face, evaluate climate risks as part of all decision-making around infrastructure, and prioritize adaptation efforts for individuals, businesses and communities that are more financially vulnerable.

The CICC report stresses the need for urgent action, as the effects of climate change are increasingly being felt across the country already.

Adaptation is increasingly becoming a key part of the discussion around climate change. That's part of a broader movement around forgetting about efforts to stop climate change -- it's too late for that -- and focusing more on limiting its damage.

Even in a policy environment focused on adaptation, though, reducing emissions is still important. Without that, none of our efforts to adapt our country will last for long.

Canada has never met an emissions-reduction target set by the federal government, and figuring out how that might happen isn't going to be a quick process. Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said last week that a detailed plan on how Canada might meet its targets is still months away.


Taking a look at stories about the environment that caught our attention this week
  • Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline replacement project, which attracted fierce opposition from environmental advocates and Indigenous groups, is now complete. Oil started flowing between the line's endpoints in Alberta and Wisconsin last Friday. The $9.3-billion replacement is the first major Canadian pipeline project to be completed in six years, and it comes online at a time when crude prices are at short-term highs. The world's leading oil producers said last week that they expect oil to remain the world's main energy source for decades to come, despite the push to move to technologies that have less impact on the environment.
  • Cruise line operators say they're seeing signs that business is bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels. While many of us may associate cruise ships with the spread of infectious disease -- something that was true long before anyone had heard of COVID-19 -- they can also pose problems for the environment. Researchers from the United Kingdom detail these risks in a newly published paper, arguing for a better global approach to monitoring and regulating the industry.
  • This is the 52nd edition of The Climate Barometer, meaning we've completed our first full year of publication. We'd like to sincerely thank everyone who's been with us since the start of the journey, and all those of you who joined partway through. There's lots more to come -- climate change isn't going anywhere, and we'll be here to help explain and chronicle it all.

An in-depth look at an important climate issue

They say those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it -- and that's as true for climate change as it is for anything else.

Humans have never before caused climate change on anything close to the current scale, but we do have millennia of experience dealing with its effects.

New research suggests that two particular examples of that experience could hold especially beneficial lessons around learning to live in a changed climate.

Scientists from the United States and Australia say that there were "clear parallels" between two civilizations half a world and hundreds of years apart -- the Khmers of Southeast Asia and the Mesoamerican Mayans.

In both cases, they say, the urban centres of these civilizations collapsed amid drastic climate upheaval, but outlying areas were able to survive much longer thanks to adaptation efforts. The researchers say the experiences of the Khmer and Maya civilizations reinforces the importance of building climate-resistant infrastructure.

Although it's something we haven't really discussed here before, the intersection of climate change and history is fertile ground for scientific research.

For example, you may have been taught that river civilizations in Central Asia were destroyed by Genghis Khan and his armies. In fact, recent evidence suggests that while Mongol invasions did devastate the region, it was climate change that dealt the final blow.

Beyond that, there are lessons to be learned from a 5,000-year-old rainforest in Peru, a canyon in Kazakhstan, and even dinosaurs -- all of which, scientists say, may carry significant implications for us as we deal with a changing planet in our present.



CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin shares his exclusive insights

By now, the environmental cost of inaction on climate change should be evident – but what about the economic cost?

In an effort to determine what various levels of climate action will mean financially, the European Central Bank recently analyzed three scenarios: political and business leaders staying the course on meeting the Paris Agreement targets, a decision to take less action now in order to save money, and nothing at all being done about climate change.

Projecting all three scenarios out 30 years and running a stress test, they found that one scenario was a clear winner when it comes to business profitability.

CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin breaks it down in this week's Riskin Report.


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