The Climate Barometer: It's coming for our food

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

From rising sea levels to increasing temperatures to major environmental shifts, just about every consequence of climate change is playing out in the Arctic.

Every year, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases an Arctic Report Card, detailing how the changes that are expected to eventually occur all around the word are already playing out in the Far North.

The latest report card was released last week. It shows a wide array of disruptions to the Arctic ecosystem, including temperatures that are rising more than twice as fast as they are on the rest of the planet, the lowest post-winter sea ice volume on record, and a 15th straight year of below-average snow cover.

Beyond those headlines, the report card points to numerous issues that may seem smaller but still spell out how much trouble the Arctic is in. It notes that Alaskan permafrost is degrading due to increased beaver colonization, that ocean acidification is ramping up, and that increased marine traffic through the Arctic due to melting ice is creating the new problem of excess trash.

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization announced last week that it has certified the 38 C temperature recorded in Siberia in June 2020 as the hottest ever experienced in the Arctic.

That record-breaking heat occured outside the timeframe of the report card, but it's yet another sign of just how much our world is changing -- and remember, we may still have a long way to go before global warming hits its peak.


Study says...
Taking a look at stories about the environment that caught our attention this week
  • As if a long-lasting ice retreat starting a decade from now isn't enough bad news, Antarctica could now be in for another major problem even sooner. Scientists believe one of the ice shelves around the Thwaites glacier could shatter in three to five years. Were this to happen, it would hasten the demise of the glacier itself. A Florida-sized chunk of ice, the Thwaites has been dubbed the "Doomsday glacier" because its collapse would lead to global sea levels rising by more than a metre.
  • The U.S. Midwest is still reeling from the devastating tornado outbreak that left dozens of people dead. While that region is used to tornado activity, it's a little more unusual of an experience in December. As with other types of extreme weather, though, it's becoming more and more common due to climate change. Scientists say winter tornadoes in a warmer world will be larger, stronger and more frequent.
  • We've been keeping tabs on the federal government's 2019 pledge to plant one billion trees by 2030. The pandemic delayed the start of planting activity until earlier this year. The Canadian Press reported last week that there have now been about 8.5 million plantings since then, or less than 0.5 per cent of the total. The government has now launched a recruitment drive in a bid to find planting assistance.
An in-depth look at an important climate issue

Climate change is coming for our food.

Temperature increases are pushing animals to find new homes, throwing off existing food chains. This has been felt acutely in Canada's North, where melting ice has led to shifting migration routes and, in turn, increased food insecurity as hunters have to travel farther to keep up with the animals they're after.

Before long, this won't just be a problem in the North. Farmers in Greece are worried that producing olive oil will be much more difficult before long, and new research out of British Columbia suggests that if climate change continues at its current pace, seafood production will be 16 per cent lower by 2100 -- even though seafood has often been considered a possible alternative to widespread consumption of meat and fish.

This helps explain why plant-based food options continue too pop up in stores and restaurants. As scientists reported earlier this year, our food system is the single largest driver of biodiversity loss -- agriculture is listed as a threat to 86 per cent of all animal species at risk of extinction -- and the best way to curb that involves widespread adoption of plant-based diets.

It's a huge problem, in part because many of us still consider plant-based food a novelty, something to try out on occasion. It won't be easy to convince billions of people to choose plants over meat -- particularly in the developing world, where it is very much a choice. One study published online last month estimates that if even 50 per cent of a restaurant's menu options are non-meat-based, consumers will continue to pick meat over vegetarian options.

Another option could be to present consumers with options that wean them off traditional meat without requiring them to go full vegetarian. That's what's happening in Europe, where the European Union recently added locusts and larvae to its list of approved food, and house crickets are widely expected to follow.


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


As regular readers know, we occasionally try to steer away from the many negative consequences of climate change to focus on the relatively few positives.

We'll be writing another one of those 'good news roundups' over the holidays. When looking at that, though, it's important to remember that even stories that provide a glimmer of optimism may not be entirely what they first seem.

For example, it's easy to hear about retreating glaciers creating far more space for salmon habitat off the Pacific coast and think of the ensuing economic and environmental benefits.

But even the researchers who came to that conclusion caution that when other climate change consequences are taken into account, the news isn't as positive for salmon after all. CTV News Science and Technology Specialist delves into the pros and cons in this week's Riskin Report.

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