Ian Mauro, an environmental and social scientist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, recently toured Atlantic Canada, interviewing fishers, hunters, farmers, businessmen, First Nations and local politicians about climate change. The result is a powerful film, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada, with people from different walks of life sharing observations about what's happening all around them.
When an old fisherman says, "We used to go out at low tide and gather a bucket of clams, but now there's no low tide, only high tide and higher tide," it's compelling. The mayor of a small seaside town tells of repeated storm damage to seawalls that costs more to repair than the community can bear. Coastal towns contemplate raising houses or moving them above anticipated new sea levels. The anecdotes add up to an overwhelming warning that social, economic and ecological costs are rapidly mounting and we must take climate change seriously. As one person says, "If you don't believe it, just look out the window."
The film is timely. In November, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- created 25 years ago to provide the most authoritative documentation on global climate science -- released the first part of its Fifth Assessment. The new report raises the level of scientific certainty about human causes of global warming from 90 per cent in the Fourth Assessment five years ago to more than 95 per cent today, and says action is urgently needed.
Mauro's film punctuates the IPCC's findings with a big exclamation mark: we've wasted too much time on the phony debate -- created, in part, by the fossil fuel industry -- about whether global warming is part of a natural cycle. The continuing congruence of rising carbon emissions and global average temperature is undeniable.
The world first heard urgent climate change warnings in 1988, issued by an international meeting of climatologists in Toronto. The evidence then was so compelling that one report declared global warming a threat to human survival second only to nuclear war and called for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 15 years.
If world leaders had taken those scientific pronouncements seriously and worked to achieve the suggested target, it would have been much simpler and less costly -- even economically advantageous -- to shift to a low-carbon future beyond even Kyoto Protocol objectives. But we didn't. Now we've exacerbated the challenge by escalating total global greenhouse gas emissions. Developing nations have ramped up fossil fuel-based economies, sales of automobiles and energy-consuming products continue to grow, and forests -- the most effective carbon sinks -- have been cleared.
We've elevated the economy above all else and demanded continued growth. Now the chickens have come home to roost, climate change has kicked in and the costs of dealing with more frequent and severe extreme weather-related events like floods, heat waves, fires and storms are swelling.
In 2009, 192 nations gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark, to negotiate our climate fate after the Kyoto Protocol expired. While failing to set concrete targets for greenhouse gas reduction, delegates agreed to limit emissions to keep temperatures from rising above 2 C by the end of the century -- an easy promise for politicians whose office tenures will end long before then, leaving no one accountable for failure.
According to the IPCC report, if we take the science seriously and act on those commitments, we know how much more carbon can be emitted to remain within 2 C: 565 gigatonnes! But the known fossil fuel deposits worldwide are already five times that limit. So why are companies looking for more and exploiting extreme sources like tar sands, deep-water deposits and shale? To stay below 2 C, we have to leave 80 per cent of known deposits in the ground! That means no more encouraging fossil fuel development or building pipelines or rail expansion to transport them.
We must also shift to renewable energy sources in direct proportion to the phase-out of fossil fuels. And we must put a stop to deforestation. Let's seize the challenge and start the transition now. Experience informs us that many unexpected or even predictable benefits will follow. Delaying further only gets us into deeper trouble.
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Researchers in Britain have found that <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22076055" target="_blank">climate change could cause increased turbulence</a> for transatlantic flights by between 10 and 40 percent by 2050. (ALEXANDER KLEIN/AFP/GettyImages)
A 2012 study from the U.S. Forest Service found that without "major adaptation efforts," parts of the U.S. are likely to see "<a href="http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/42363" target="_blank">substantial future water shortages</a>." Climate change, especially for the Southwest U.S., can both <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/02/25/1638541/study-climate-change-dry-up-us-reservoirs-lake-powell-lake-mead" target="_blank">increase water demand and decrease water supply</a>.
Research by British government found that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/15/somalia-famine-climate-change_n_2883088.html" target="_blank">climate change may have contributed to a famine in East Africa</a> that killed between 50,000 and 100,000 people in 2010 and 2011. At least 24 percent of the cause of a lack of major rains in 2011 can be attributed to man-made greenhouse gases, Met Office modeling showed. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)
The <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/25/frozen-spring-arctic-sea-ice-loss" target="_blank">dramatic and rapid loss of sea ice in recent years</a> has consequences beyond the Arctic. Scientists have found the melting shifts the position of the Jet Stream, bringing cold Arctic air further south and increasing the odds of intense snow storms and extreme spring weather.
Research indicates that increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide <a href="http://www.onearth.org/blog/poison-ivy-climate-change" target="_blank">result in larger poison ivy plants</a>. Even worse, climate change will mean that the plant's irritating oil will also get more potent.
The <a href="http://www.livescience.com/28320-climate-change-allergies.html" target="_blank">spring 2013 allergy season could be one of the worst ever</a>, thanks to climate change. Experts say that increased precipitation, along with an early spring, late-ending fall and higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may bring more pollen from plants and increased mold and fungal growth.
North American alligators require a certain temperature range for survival and reproduction, traditionally limiting them to the southern U.S. <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/animal_forecast/2013/02/alligators_in_virginia_climate_change_could_be_pushing_cold_blooded_species.single.html" target="_blank">But warming temperatures could open new turf</a> to gators with more sightings farther north.
High in the Peruvian Andes, parts of the world's largest tropical ice sheet have melted at an unbelievable pace. Scientists found that significant <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/world/americas/1600-years-of-ice-in-perus-andes-melted-in-25-years-scientists-say.html" target="_blank">portions of the Quelccaya Ice Cap that took over 1,600 years to form have melted in only 25 years</a>. (Perito Moreno Glacier pictured)
Along with other agricultural impacts, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/climate-change-wine_n_3039673.html" target="_blank">climate change may have a dramatic effect on the world's most famous winemaking regions</a> in coming decades. Areas suitable for grape cultivation may shrink, and temperature changes may impact the signature taste of wines from certain regions.
Thanks to climate change, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/polar-arctic-greenland-ice-climate-change" target="_blank">low-lying island nations may have to evacuate</a>, and sooner than previously expected. Melting of the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets has been underestimated, scientists say, and populations in countries like the Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu and others may need to move within a decade.
Warmer winters in northern latitudes could mean <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/01/18/hamilton-climate-change-rinks.html" target="_blank">fewer days for outdoor hockey</a>. An online project called RinkWatch aims to collect data on the condition of outdoor winter ice rinks in Canada and the northern U.S. and educate people on the impacts of climate change.
Experts speculate that <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/08/100806-oyster-herpes-global-warming-climate-change-science/" target="_blank">warming oceans may have played a part in a strain of herpes</a> that has killed Pacific oysters in Europe in recent years.
As Arctic ice melts and polar bears see more of their habitat disappear, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/14/polar-bears-turn-brown-climate-change_n_2878684.html" target="_blank">animals could lose their famous white coats</a>. Researchers have already witnessed polar bears hybridizing with their brown cousins, but note that it would take thousands of years from them to adapt themselves out of existence.
Climate change means warmer winters in northern latitudes and a shorter ski season. By 2039, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/us/climate-change-threatens-ski-industrys-livelihood.html" target="_blank">more than half of the Northeast's ski resorts</a> will not be able to maintain a 100-day season, according to the New York Times. Ski areas will be less likely to receive regular snowfall, and warmer daily low temperatures mean fewer opportunities for snowmaking.
Apples produced in one Himalayan state of India are already losing their taste and even turning sour, experts say. <a href="http://zeenews.india.com/news/eco-news/arunachal-apples-losing-taste-due-to-climate-chang_831169.html" target="_blank">Increased rainfall and erratic weather in the region mean less than ideal conditions</a> for famously-sweet Kashmiri apples.
With climate change already impacting northern latitudes, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/sports/warm-weather-forces-changes-ahead-of-iditarod-race.html" target="_blank">warmer winters in Alaska could mean less than ideal conditions</a> for the famous Iditarod sled dog race. “It definitely has us concerned,” a musher and Iditarod spokeswoman who's already breeding dogs with thinner coats told The New York Times.
<a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/11/121108-climate-change-coffee-coffea-arabica-botanical-garden-science/" target="_blank">Climate change may dramatically shrink the area suitable for coffee cultivation</a> by the end of the century and cause the extinction of Arabica coffee plants in the wild. Starbucks has already declared that "<a href="http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility/environment/climate-change" target="_blank">Addressing climate change is a priority</a>."
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