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    Categories: Environment

More heat, heavier shovels, fewer trees

Climate change isn’t about far-off nations or polar bears for Chandra Tomaras, senior environmental project manager with the City of Edmonton.

To her, it’s about her two young daughters and their future.

“Every day at work, I get to think about my daughters and the ways I can help them and Edmonton prepare to get ready for these changes,” she said.

Tomaras led a panel discussion Monday at the Shaw Conference Centre on how Edmonton could adapt to climate change. The talk was part of a free series of lectures at the centre offered as part of an international climate science conference this week.

“Climate change has widespread impacts,” Tomaras said, including risks from heat stress, storms, droughts and storm surges.

“If we don’t prepare, those impacts will be more severe.”

Climate researchers predict that Edmonton’s average annual temperature in 2050 will be 5.1- 5.6 C, Tomaras said – way up from the current average of 1.9 C, and as hot as the hottest years we got last century. 2050 is when her daughters will be her age.

“That average temperature is projected to be similar to the worst conditions we experienced in the 20th century,” Tomaras said.

Edmonton will have about 62 days of sub-zero temperature by 2080, down from the 96 it averages today, researchers found. The region will also see more extreme heat, with about 47 days of plus-29 C weather a year by 2080, compared to just seven now.

“Heat has serious implications for elderly and vulnerable populations,” Tomaras noted, and her kids will be seniors by 2080.

More heat could change the kinds of activities we can enjoy in the winter, and could make our snow more like the heavy wet stuff North Dakota gets, Tomaras said in an interview. That will make shovelling snow more difficult.

Heat will also make Edmonton’s landscape more suited for the grasslands of southern Alberta than the dense forests we have today, Tomaras said. That means our forests will be less likely to grow back if they die off from drought or bugs, both of which are more likely in a warmer climate.

Warming has already led to a spike in extreme weather events in Alberta, Tomaras said during the panel.

About 70 per cent of Canada’s weather-related insurance payouts in the last five years went to Alberta, said panellist Bill Adams, the regional vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. That’s close to $7.5 billion. And higher climate risks mean higher insurance costs.

We’re all going to pay for climate change, whether it be through infrastructure upgrades, higher premiums, or steps you take at home, Adams said.

“It’s one set of pockets. We pay. It’s just a function of where that money goes.”

What to do

Our cities are built on infrastructure designed for today’s climate, not the one that’s coming, Tomaras said. Edmonton has developed a comprehensive plan to cut its energy use and carbon emissions in preparation for climate change, and will have a draft climate adaptation strategy ready later this year.

Citizens concerned about climate change can help reduce it by switching to electric cars and buses, buying green power, and investing in energy efficiency, said David Dodge, who introduced this panel discussion.

Most of the insurance impacts we’ve seen from climate change so far in Alberta have been flooding related, Adams said in an interview. Residents can adapt to this risk by keeping eaves troughs clear and installing sewer backflow valves, while city governments should upgrade their storm sewer systems and protect water-absorbing wetlands from development.

Climate change will mean less agricultural productivity and higher food prices, noted panellist Debra Davidson, a sociologist at the University of Alberta and one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report. Cities can adapt by supporting food-insecure populations through school meal programs and community kitchens and by diversifying their food sources through urban agriculture.

This panel talk can be viewed at www.facebook.com/YEGclimate.

Kevin Ma :Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.