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Climate Change Mitigation – One Seed at a Time: Restoring the Diversity of Southern Ontario’s Carolinian Forests

“Society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they will never sit in.”  – Greek Proverb

A few years ago, after having taken many courses at the University of Toronto on forestry, plant biology, soil science, and physical geography, I realized that I had never so much as gotten my hands dirty, and certainly hadn’t applied the wealth of botanical knowledge I had been so busy accumulating. So one day, inspired by a white elm seed that somehow drifted into my 12thstorey apartment window, I decided to grow some trees. My initial focus was on native tree species that were now somewhat rare in Southern Ontario—pawpaw (Asimina triloba), white pine (Pinus strobus), white and red elm (Ulmus americana and U. rubra), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), American chestnut (Castanea dentata), butternut (Juglans cinerea), Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioicus), red mulberry (Morus rubra), shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), and American beech (Fagus grandifolia), to name but a few. I quickly became an avid collector of tree seeds and would often return home with my pockets bursting at the seams with the embryonic constituents of our native forests.

My tiny, balcony-less bachelor apartment in the dense concrete jungle of St. James Town in downtown Toronto only receives about three or four hours of direct sunlight each day—not an ideal nursery for our native trees, but I figured it was better than nothing. My small window sill quickly proved to be inadequate for my assemblage of makeshift pots, so I fashioned an addition to it to make more room to grow. When this added space proved inadequate for my burgeoning urban forest, I began to germinate seeds under a humble 100 watt halogen lamp.

When I began I had no clear plans for my little trees, I was simply curious to grow them and was fascinated by their development. I found the experience very humbling, and realized that despite the “book” knowledge one might have, there is no substitute for simple trial and error.

The first enemies to plague my woody brood were fungus gnats, who infiltrated my apartment via transplanted soil or through an open window. Fungus gnats superficially resemble fruit flies, and have similar life cycles. They have the nasty habit of burrowing into the soil of house plants and laying an abundance of eggs. Their larvae seem to have voracious appetites and feed on the roots of potted plants, at best stunting plant growth, but at worst killing young seedlings en masse. I was unable to find any suitable information on how to repress fungus gnats on the internet, and hundreds of my seedlings fell prey to their appetites over many frustrating months. One day, however, I discovered a means to eradicate them using the same mechanism that yields so many profound scientific discoveries—chance! I had hoped that a certain species of spider that frequented my apartment would be a natural predator of fungus gnats, so I moved several individuals to the area where I was growing my trees. In order to get the spiders to stay in that area, I quickly learned that I needed to provide them with a source of water, so I would regularly fill bottle caps and lids with water and leave them near the little predators. After moving a new spider to the vicinity of my seedlings, I realized I was out of appropriate spider drinking vessels, and used the lid from a jar of recently finished sunflower seed oil. The lid, as it turns out, was not entirely clean, and still contained traces of the oil. I had previously noticed that fungus gnats took advantage of the water I left out for the spiders, perhaps because it was more easily accessible than the water in the soil of my potted seedlings.

When I returned home that night I was surprised to find a dozen or so fungus gnats floating dead in the lid of the sunflower seed oil, and several others crawling with difficulty around it, unable to fly, like sea birds in an oil slick. I seized upon this chance discovery, and applied a coat of sunflower seed oil to the rims of all my pots (which were the perches of choice of the gnats). To expedite the eradication of the gnats I went a step further and dipped the ends of Q-Tips in oil and stuck them directly into the soil in my pots. These convenient perches proved irresistible—and deadly—to the gnats. Within a couple of weeks the legion of gnats was all but gone, and I have not seen a single one in the last couple of years. But the gnats weren’t the only herbivores to plague my little trees.

After ridding my apartment of the fungus gnats my seedlings rapidly began to thrive and out-grow their pots. I was ready for the next step—putting the seedlings in the ground in a place where they could grow undisturded by humans or other pests. Conveniently, my parents live on a ten acre plot of former agricultural land on the Oak Ridges Moraine near Caledon. Since purchasing this property in 2002 and deciding not to continue cutting the grass of their rolling meadows, native trees like cedars (Thuja occidentalis), balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), and red pine (Pinus resinosa) had slowly but surely begun to recolonize the site. But tree diversity was low and reforestation rates were slow. Given my knowledge and nascent expertise in forestry, I felt obliged to change this. So one spring day I went up to my parents with a couple dozen healthy seedlings and began to plant. I was quite familiar with the soil profiles of their land and was well aware of the preferred habitat of each species of my seedlings. I remember taking great care in selecting a spot for each seedling and ensuring that each was transplanted without doing it harm.

A couple of weeks after that initial planting I couldn’t wait to get back up there to check up on my little trees. When I returned, however, I found that almost nothing remained! Over a year of work had been wiped out seemingly overnight. A few dry stems remained here and there, but without a single leaf or bud on them. I examined the planting sites like a forensic scientist, and quickly concluded who was at fault: deer. I had regularly seen deer browsing in my parents’ fields and was always grateful to behold them. But now their Bambi-esque benignity began to take on a sinister spectre. The only survivors from that initial round of transplants were two beech seedlings (who are still doing well today), which are known not to be favoured by deer.

Unlike the fungus gnats, the deer problem was easy to neutralize. From that point on whenever I planted a seedling I would surround it with home-made bark mulch about a metre in diameter (to prohibit the growth of competing herbaceous plants and help retain soil moisture) and enshroud the planting with a protective dome of chicken wire. This method has proven successful, and my parents land is now peppered with rare native tree seedlings, the oldest of which are about three years in age

I now love the idea of collecting seeds from trees that are surrounded by a sea of concrete on bustling urban streets, or from trees in highly manicured city parks—seeds that have little to no chance of germinating, never mind reaching maturity. Collecting such seeds, germinating them, then transplanting the seedlings to a relatively natural rural setting where they can thrive gives me a feeling of satisfaction that is hard to articulate. I feel as if I am fulfilling a crucial ecological role as a disperser of seeds—a role usually reserved for the likes of squirrels, birds, water, or the wind. I even feel that if the parent trees could feel anything, they would be proud and grateful that a few of their urban offspring found a good home and a good life in the country, where they are free to live out their centuries-long lives in peace, and themselves produce a wealth of viable offspring. 

To think (or at least hope) that many of the trees that I continue to grow and transplant will remain and contribute to the biodiversity of the Oak Ridges Moraine long after I am dead and gone is greatly comforting. And biodiversity enhancement is but one of the many ecological and social benefits these trees will provide. They will also serve to sequester atmospheric carbon, improve air and soil quality, purify and enhance the retention of groundwater, mitigate erosion and flooding, moderate microclimate temperatures, and provide food and habitat for wildlife. In a small yet appreciable way, these trees, merely by being given the right to exist, will help to counter the effects of climate change and ecological degradation.

DMFormatedI dream that in a hundred years or more someone with an affinity for our woody cousins might stumble upon a patch of mature mulberry or pawpaw trees on the land my parents currently own and realize that someone, at some point in the past, must have planted those trees as a small recompense for the carnage humans have wrought on Southern Ontario’s Carolinian forests—the most biologically diverse and most threatened forests in all of Canada. Perhaps I am just taking this ancient Greek proverb literally: “Society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they will never sit in.” Perhaps it was meant to be taken literally.

Blog written by Derek May, CC-RAI/ORCCC Graduate Assistant

Youth Climate Report and York University Researchers in Doha, COP18

The most recent meeting of the UNFCCC at COP 18 meeting in Doha saw the premiere of Neko Harbour Entertainment Inc’s third edition of the Youth Climate Report (YCR). Producers Mark Terry and John Kelly premiered the film for representatives of the United Nations, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other delegates at the Doha Round of climate change negotiations.

The production included interviews with senior researchers and students from around the world, including researchers and students from York University. The project showcases the latest climate change research and discoveries made by scientists from around the world. The four interviews with researchers and students from York University represented one of only two submissions from a Canadian university.

This edition of YCR included interviews with Dr. Ellie Perkins (Faculty of Environmental Studies(FES)), Dr. Kaz Higuchi (Faculty of Environmental Studies(FES)) & Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (Geography)), Dr. Richard Bello (Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (Geography)), and Dr. Gregory Thiemann (Faculty of Environmental Studies(FES)). Students from a variety of faculties participated as the interviewers including, Sindy Singh (FES), Shishir Handa (LAPS – Geography), Masao Absinthe (LAPS – Geography) and Kristina Delidjakova (LAPS – Geography).

 

The film included submissions from four other countries including the United States, Cameroon, Sudan and Singapore and has been screened daily at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) symposium since the beginning of the negotiations. This project was coordinated by CC-RAI, a partnership between York University and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). TRCA and York University are currently leading the development of the Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium with support from other Ontario universities.

A stock-taking session for the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWGLCA) Doha COP18 2012 – courtesy of John Kelly

Many thanks to the students and faculty that participated in this project as well as the Faculty of Environment Studies, our partner on this project. The Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium (ORCCC) aims to equip public and private sector decision makers with regionally-specific climate data, intelligence and adaptation services that enable effective policy and investment responses to climate risk in Ontario. The ORCCC initiative has been led by the TRCA and York University. For additional information contact Program and Communications Manager, Stewart Dutfield at info@climateconsortium.ca.

Youth Climate Report is produced by Neko Harbour Entertainment Inc., a documentary and media production company based in Toronto, Canada.  To date, the company has produced two documentaries — The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning and The Polar Explorer — that have brought the science of climate change to audiences worldwide. The current project showcases the latest climate change research and discoveries made by scientists from around the world. The United Nations had also invited Neko Harbour Entertainment Inc. to screen the film at the United Nations in New York City.

Focus on Sustainability Film Festival: Food – Call for Submission 2013

Sustainability Film Festival : Food - 2013

Focus on Sustainability Film Festival: Food – Call for Submission 2013

The second annual Focus on Sustainability Film Festival returns to York University this winter semester 2013, with a spotlight on the increasingly vital and complex topic of Food.  In addition to feature films, panel discussions, and prizes centred on food, the upcoming festival also gives local film makers in the York U community an opportunity to have their food related film featured.  Following the submission deadline, the festival presenters will choose one prize-winning film to be highlighted, and up to three runner-up films to be exhibited.

Submission Requirements:

  • York University enrolled (or previously enrolled) student in any department
  • Run time for films must not exceed 60 minutes
  •  Films must be focused on any food related issue
  • Suggestions include: animal rights, agriculture, veganism/vegetarianism, local/global
  • Deadline is January 10th 2013 to Jessica Reeve, IRIS Junior Fellow
  • Email submissions to jreeve@yorku.ca; or drop in person to 395 York Lanes, IRIS Offices
  • Submissions must be in digital formats, and accompanied by a 250 word abstract, title, and

Contact information

This call for submission is brought to you by The Osgoode Environmental Law Society (ELS), The Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), and The Climate Consortium for Research Action Integration (CC-RAI).  For more information please contact Jessica Reeve at jreeve@yorku.ca.

Fall Has Arrived! So has CC-RAI’s Fall Newsletter

The leafs are changing!

Our fall newsletter is here!

After a record breaking summer researchers in Canada continue to advance our knowledge of a changing climate. If you are interested in learning more about our work with the Ontario Regional Climate Change Consortium (ORCCC) or efforts to build capacity for interdisciplinary collaboration around climate change research and action in Canada and internationally please contact Program and Communications Manager – Stewart Dutfield.

In addition to the information provided in our newsletter you can learn more about our various projects including our climate literacy project, regular blog series and other initiatives by talking a stroll through CC-RAI online.

Arctic ice goes the way of the Dodo bird

While scrolling over the news last week one could not help seeing mention of the massive decrease in the amount of Arctic sea ice. A front page news story to be sure. The coverage focused on the reality that the extent of Arctic sea ice had reached its lowest level since measurements began. While this disturbing fact was widely reported the implications and effects of such a dramatic decline in the extent of Arctic sea ice have seemed relatively muted. For many this story may have simply read like another tidbit of news in the annuals of reporting on the natural world. For those individuals who study and live in the Arctic, the dramatic and shifting conditions of the polar region is evidence of a disconcerting trend. Another canary in the same old coal mine. The ice, a proxy for the proverbial canary continues to go the way of the dodo bird

Three satellites were used to confirm the decrease in the extent of Arctic ice coverage. Images: NASA

The early nineties Swedish band Ace of Base could well provide the theme song for the sweeping changes we are seeing as a global consequence of climate change, particularly the last week of summer 2012. The band’s popular refrain: I saw a sign and it opened up my eyes, …, No one’s gonna drag you up to get into the light where you belong…” Although it is doubtful the group was thinking about anything close to climate change when they wrote this, it gets one thinking how many ‘tidbits’of natural world news stories does one have to read before one “SEES THE SIGN”. As Hurricane Isaac delayed the opening of the Republican National Convention, George Monbiot suggested that we remember the August the 28th as the day the world went ‘raving’ mad.  As George points out, “When your children ask how and why it all went so wrong, point them to yesterday’s date [August 28 2012], and explain that the world is not led by rational people”

His assertion isn’t misplaced when you consider what the decline of the Arctic sea ice means. Let us forget about the sophisticated climate models, and the thousands of scientific studies, and simply consider the basis of science itself – observation. We are observing unprecedented changes in our natural world, that when applied to the predominant scientific theory purported to explain these changes seem to confirm over and over again that anthropogenic climate change is a reality. Who is going to drag the collective us into the light?

Let us neglect the discussion as to how this epic thaw has the potential to release large amounts of previously held GHGs; the inherent ecological issues for polar species, the complex dynamics of ocean chemistry, the impact on rising sea levels, not to mention the impact on the people of the world’s polar regions, and of course the reality that the Arctic regions are the next go-to locations for oil and gas extraction. This list of issues is of course much longer, but for now why not simply focus on what is happening right now. As Arctic sea ice vanishes, drought ravages crops across the planet, floods have inundated cities across the globe including the Big Easy once again, and of course Tampa – the host city of the Republican National Convention.

As a news junkie, a skeptic, a cynic and an overall believer in the scientific method, I’ll do my best to remain rational as I continue to see the irrational interfere with science, observation and communication. On a side note,  I’m not assuming that everyone that doesn’t agree with climate change is irrational,  I am simply asking that they consider the significant changes we are seeing. The disappearance of Arctic sea ice is, after all, a wakeup call for the everyone and every government worldwide, whether they choose to hear it or not.

Let us be thankful for the coverage the Arctic did receive especially in a week where Jersey Shore’s Snookie gave birth to Lorenzo, and Clint Eastwood (I love Clint by the way) had a conversation with a chair.

P.S. If you are looking for some great reporting I have to recommend the September issue of National Geographic and a special mention has to go to my new favourite person, a rational weatherman and meteorologist from South Carolina’s WLTX, Jim Gandy.

Summer Blog Series – Kirstin Silvera Blogs from Costa Rica – Climate Change and Sea Turtle Conservation

As part of our summer-long blog series, Kirstin Silvera, a member of the CC-RAI team will be discussing climate change and its impact on coral reefs, biodiversity and more from a research placement in Costa Rica. Kirstin is currently a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and will begin her Law degree this coming fall. In the final blog of the series, Kirstin outlines the impact climate change could have already dangerous endangered sea turtle species.

A young turtle 'coming home' to the sea - a new and dangerous journey.

Tortuguero, a small village located on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is the most important nesting beach for green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the western hemisphere (STC, 2011). The beach is also an important nesting site for leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). Of these species, greens and loggerheads are listed by the IUCN as endangered, while leatherbacks and hawksbills are listed as critically endangered. This makes Tortuguero a crucial player in the successful nesting of these species, and therefore an important factor for their continued existence.

This summer I was working for an organization around Tortuguero, collecting data on nesting sea turtles. In preparing my final blog for the summer I thought it might be interesting to explore how climate change may impact these already endangered species.

Up to and including the point at which sea turtles reach sexual maturity they face many natural and anthropogenic threats including, human development and subsequent habitat destruction, by-catch threats, pollution, and a range of natural predators(Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009). Sea turtles are one of the oldest species on the planet and “have evolved with continuous habitat alteration through natural coastal processes such as seasonal erosion, accretion and high-tide flooding. The extensive coastal development seen in the last 30 years on many Caribbean islands, however, has occurred within the time required by some turtle species to reach maturity, and then impacts of rapid habitat modification are only now starting to emerge” (Fish, Cote, Gill, Jones, Renshoff, and Watkinson, 2003).

Other climatic factors that could be affected by climate change, “such as extreme weather events, precipitation, ocean acidification and sea level rise also have potential to affect marine turtle populations” (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009). Because of this, as climate change alters sea turtle habitats, impacts from natural and anthropogenic sources could be exacerbated. Of particular importance are 3 key characteristics that make sea turtles vulnerable to climate change impacts.

A diagram that illustrates the feedback loops in which climate change could impact sea turtles in their breeding and nesting phases. The + and – indicate the likely direction of the effect (Diagram from: Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2007).

1. Turtles are loyal to their nesting sites

Beaches are essential habitat for nesting sea turtles (Fish et al, 2003). Recent studies suggest that marine turtles return to the same beaches where they were born to nest –  year after year. As a result it is critically important that these beaches remain intact. Climate change and associated sea level rise has the potential to have serious impacts. As sea levels rise, the natural shoreline becomes more eroded than usual (Fish, Cote, Gill, Jones, Renshoff, and Watkinson, 2003). Due to development associated with tourism on many parts of the Caribbean coast, nesting beaches could be lost. In addition to threats from erosion and development nests are also at risk from inundation, thereby resulting in increased hatchling mortality and an overall decrease in the success of nesting females (Robinson et al, 2005; Fish et al, 2003).

2. Sexual determination is temperature dependent

Temperature dependent sex determination means that for species, such as turtles that lay their eggs in the ground, the sex of the offspring depends on the temperature of the eggs during incubation (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2007). Even if the temperature of the nest changes as little as 1 degree Celsius, the sex ratios of offspring could be altered. As the climate changes and the temperatures of nesting locations change, sex ratios can become skewed either towards males or females (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2007; Janzen, 1994). If clutches become female biased, there may not be enough males to fertilize eggs in the future, and if clutches become male biased, populations may not have enough females to continue to reproduce successfully.

3. The range of sea turtles is growing

New hatchlings getting acquainted with their new surroundings.

Like other reptiles, turtles are cold blooded. They rely on their environment to moderate their body temperature. If ocean temperatures warm as a result of climate change, the range for various turtle species may expand. Many turtle species have very large ranges. (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009). As the ranges expand, it will becomes increasingly difficult to make sure that they are protected in different locations. Climate change could also disrupt food chains as well as surface currents, all of which could have a profound impact on sea turtle species (Hawkes, Broderick, Godfrey, and Godley, 2009).

Like many species already facing threats from climate change a wide array of potentially detrimental factors are in play. As many species of sea turtle are already critically endangered the risk a changing climate could have is extremely worrying. In order to maintain, sustain and protect this ancient species will necessitate new research and a renewed commitment to the species currently and potentially at risk.

References:

Fish, M.R., Cote, I.M., Gill, J.A., Jones, A.P., Renshoff, S., and Watkinson, A.R. (2005). Predicting the Impact of Sea-Level Rise on Caribbean Sea Turtle Nesting Habitat. Conservation Biology, 19, 482-491.

Hawkes, L.A., Broderick, A.C., Godfrey, M.H. and Godley, B.J. (2009). Climate change and marine turtles. Endangered Species Research, 7, 137-154.

Hawkes, L.A., Broderick, A.C., Godfrey, M.H. and Godley, B.J. (2007). Investigating the potential impacts of climate change on a marine turtle population. Global Change Biology, 12, 923-932.

Hays, G.C., Broderick, A.C., Glen, F. and Godley, B.J. (2003). Climate change and sea turtles: a 150-year reconstruction of incubation temperatures at a major marine turtle rookery. Global Change Biology, 9, 642-646.

Janzen, F.J. (1994). Climate change and temperature-dependent sex determination in reptiles. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 91, 7487-7490.

Robinson, R.A., Learmonth, J.A., Hutson, A.M., Macleod, C.D., Sparks, T.H., Leech, D.L., Pierce, G.J., Rehfisch, M.M., and Crick, H.Q.P. (2005). Climate Change and Migratory Species. A Report for Defra Research Contract CR0302.

Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC). (2011). Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. Retrieved from: http://www.conserveturtles.org/volunteer-research-programs.php?page=tortnp.

Weishampel, J.F., Bagley, D.A., and Ehrhart, L.M. (n.d.). Earlier Nesting of Loggerhead Sea Turtles Following Sea Surface Warming. Department of Biology, University of Central Florida.

Witt, M.J., Hawkes, L.A., Godfrey, M.H., Godley, B.J., and Broderick, A.C. (2010). Predicting the impacts of climate change on a globally distributed species: the case of the loggerhead turtle. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 213, 901-911.

Climate Change – Coming to a city, I mean everywhere near you…

July 17th – Toronto breaks yet another heat record. It is 11:54 pm and I am lying in the living room trying to take advantage of the small window mounted air-conditioning unit while an industrial fan is pointed towards me and a wet towel is draped over me. It is hot and in so much as I blame my overactive metabolism and my third storey apartment the culprit is the weather.  As someone who has spent the better part of the last five years involved in climate change work and research I know enough not to associate one incidence of extreme heat  with global climate change. That said, it hasn’t simply been one incidence, or two or three, or hundreds, but thousands. While the vast majority of scientists agree and continue to enhance their understanding as to how our climate is changing, for some – scientifically validated, and peer-reviewed evidence simply will not do.

How about some anecdotal evidence? In another excellent video from the producer of Crock of the Week, Peter Sinclair; we are introduced to what Eugene Robinson at the Washington Post points to as the type of weather we are likely to experience for the rest of our lives. It is from Robinson that the Crock of the Week gets its title. The compilation of news clips and videos entitled ‘Welcome to the Rest of Your Life’ is just over 8 minutes long and serves to highlight the past 3 weeks of extreme heat, wild fires and wild weather that has blazed, razed and rampaged its way across North America affecting millions of us directly and millions more indirectly now and in the months to come.

In an interview with PBS’s Judy Woodruff,  Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Centre  for Atmospheric Research in the US, is quoted as saying the weather has, ‘no parallel’ and that by simply looking out the window you can see climate change in action. CBS news reports that the period from May 2011 to April 2012 has represented the warmest 12 months since 1895 when the US started keeping records, while CNN goes on to report 1800 record high temperatures have been reported and that  40,000 daily heat records have broken so far this year, double that of 2011 (which by the way is still 20,000).

Tom Costello of NBC news reports that the storms that hit the northeast united states recently knocked out power to 5 million people, 2 million more than those who were without power as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  To put that in perspective, Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area represents a population of more than 5 million people.

While the focus of the ‘Crock of Week’ is focused on the US, the Canadian news could have certainly supplied some footage. The CBC reports, “Drought in Central, Eeastern Canada baking (July 15th), another record breaking day in Toronto

While sun-worshippers may relish the heat, for others it can be agony and even deadly. However, it isn’t simply the heat that is the problem, it is the impact is has on our infrastructure, our agriculture, our farmers, their families, those vulnerable members of society, i.e., the elderly and the economically disadvantaged who cannot afford the air-conditioning or the secondary impacts of higher foods prices as a result of crop damage.

Interspersed between the reports and interviews from NBC, ABC, CNN and is a conversation with Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, who acknowledges, ‘clearly there is going to be an impact, I’m not distributing (sic that), increasing CO2 emissions in (sic) the atmosphere is is going to have an impact, it will have a warming impact, how large it is is what is very hard for anyone to predict and depending on how large it is – then projects how dire the consequences are.”

The consequences seem pretty dire – for example, simply consult the IPCC Special Report on Extreme Weather (SREX) or the farmer whose crop has been dessimated by extreme heat and long-lasting drought.

While we may wish to blame the oil companies our ravenous appetite for fossil fuels doesn’t seem to be decreasing, that is another issue. As scientists the world over acknowledge, even if we could halt the increase in greenhouse gas emissions immediately those already in play will continue to affect global climate change for years to come.

How much evidence scientific, anecdotal or otherwise does one need to accept the reality that global climate change is an issue. Not just for comparatively wealthy North Americans, but also billions more in the developing world.

One of my heroes, Sir Austin Bradford Hill, the famed an epidemiologist and statistician who was one of the  first to demonstrate the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer wrote “All scientific work is incomplete – whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time.”

While science continues to validate projections of global climate change and further substantiate the drivers and mechanisms behind that change we might want to consider the overwhelming reality of change happening all around us.

And while I agree with Rex that we are indeed an adaptable species, adaptation isn’t as easy as he makes it sound.  While Rex contends, “it is an engineering problem and it has engineering solutions,” I’m not that convinced. Yes, engineering solutions will be important, but adapting to a problem as overwhelming and globally pervasive as climate change won’t simply mean a technical fix. Shifting agricultural production, bringing water to new deserts and equipping cities to effectively respond to the social, environment and economic challenges of our present reality will not be easy or inexpensive. That said, we can’t begin to consider adaptation if we can’t come to terms the reality of the rest of our lives and those of our children and grandchildren.

Companion Video from the YALE forum on CLIMATE CHANGE & THE MEDIA (Peter Sinclair)

This weeks blog post was written by Stewart Dutfield, CC-RAI’s Program and Communications Manager after viewing the most recent, ‘Crock of the Week’. Stewart has studied and worked in the area of climate change for nearly five years and is interested in the aspect of communications and public awareness around climate change, as well as climate adaptation in the urban context.

This blog post reflects the opinion of the author.

Summer Blog Series – Kirstin Silvera Blogs from Costa Rica – Climate Change and Costa Rica’s Cloud Forests

 

Costa Rica's Cloud Forests (Flickr gwegner.de | Creative Commons)

As part of our summer-long blog series, Kirstin Silvera, a member of the CC-RAI team will be discussing climate change and its impact on coral reefs, biodiversity and more from a research placement in Costa Rica. Kirstin is currently a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and will begin her Law degree this coming fall. In the second of her blog series, Kirstin outlines the impact of climate change Costa Rica’s cloud forests.

Costa Rica is home to a rich amount of species diversity contained in each of its many ecosystems. It is one of the top 20 most biodiverse countries in the world, due in part to its varied geography which provides essential microclimates for many of its endemic species (INBio, 2012). Costa Rica’s landscape spans both the Caribbean and Pacific coastline that begin at sea level and leads into the central mountain range, which rises to over 3000 metres above sea level (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). These changes in elevation cause differences in temperature and moisture which allow for a wide variety of distinct ecosystems and endemic species to exist (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). Of particular importance are Costa Rica’s montane cloud forests that support many endemic species.

Costa Rica - Cloud Forests of the Montane (Flickr davidgordillo | Creative Commons)

The Importance of Costa Rican Cloud Forests

Cloud forests rely on regular cloud immersion in order to maintain their unique ecosystem (Foster, 2001). Because of its mountainous landscape, Costa Rica is home to several cloud rainforests (INBio, 2012). These cloud forests exist above 1000 metres because of continuous horizontal circulation of precipitation, and are highly dependent on the height at which the clouds form for their existence (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). Recent climate models are however predicting that with climate change, Costa Rican cloud forests could be negatively affected as they become warmer and drier (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008).  If the predicted rise in temperature happens, species ranges in temperate zones are expected to shift upwards of 600 metres in elevation (University of Connecticut, 2008). With many species in these regions of Costa Rica having very limited altitudinal ranges, a 600 metre shift in elevation would put them in an ecosystem that they had not previously inhabited. These changes would consequently force other species to move out of their natural habitats.

Tropical regions may not be the first concern when one thinks about the effects of climate change, however, studies have shown a rise of approximately 0.75 degrees Celsius in the tropics since 1975. Climate change models are also predicting a further rise of 3 degrees Celsius in the next 100 years in Central and South America (University of Connecticut, 2008). “According to Karmalkar, as temperatures rise, various ecosystems will try to migrate to where they are comfortable, moving in an upslope direction in this case. As they migrate, plants and animals will disturb other species, and eventually run out of space as they reach the top of the mountains. The result may be a loss of many species that can’t survive the new conditions.” (University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008). Preliminary studies have shown that the cloud bank around Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica is rising due to climate change (Pounds, Fodgen and Campbell, 1999).

Costa Rica - Endemic species rely of the cloud forests for survival (Flickr Erik B | Creative Commons|

Some researchers have gone as far as to say that “endemic species may provide early warning signals for climate change as an extinction driver because they will be the first to move outside their modeled climatic envelope” (Schwartz et al., 2006). Climate change caused changes to bird and lizard populations in Monteverde in the past which rebounded to cause extinction of other species (Pounds, Fogden and Campbell, 1999), making understanding and mitigating climate change all the more important for sensitive ecosystems such as the cloud forests of Costa Rica.

Other interesting resources:

La Selva Biological Station: La Selva Holds Two Workshops Addressing Climate Change

Área de Conservación Guanacaste (iACG): Climate Change and Biodiversity Workshop

References

 

 

Summer Blog Series – Kirstin Silvera Blogs from Costa Rica – Climate Change and our Coral Reefs

As part of our summer-long blog series, Kirstin Silvera, a member of the CC-RAI team will be discussing climate change and its impact on coral reefs, biodiversity and more from a research placement in Costa Rica. Kirstin is currently a graduate student in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and will begin her Law degree this coming fall. In the first of the series, Kirstin outlines the impact of climate change on coral reefs around the world.

A healthy coral reef - vibrant and full of life (Nature Summit, 2011)

While some marine organisms can afford to change habitats in response to changing climates, coral reefs do not have that option. Therefore it is important to understand the effects that climate change can have on our ocean’s coral reefs and species.

Coral reefs are one of the most biodiverse habitats on earth, and the most biodiverse of all marine ecosystems, containing approximately 25 percent of all fish species (IPCC, 2007). However, as the oceans warm while the earth’s temperature increases, corals are at a higher risk of mortality.

Corals are harmed with climate change because of ocean temperature increases and because of increased ocean acidification (U.S. EPA, 2011). Coral reefs are sensitive to changes as small as a one degree Celsius rise in ocean temperature, and if sustained for a period as small as six weeks extensive coral bleaching can occur (Australian Government, n.d.). In these situations if temperatures do not return to normal, widespread coral mortality can result (Australian Government, n.d.).

As temperatures in the oceans rise, algae, which have a symbiotic relationship with corals, are lost (Nicholls et al., 2007). This causes the corals to stress and bleach, and as previously mentioned if increased temperatures are sustained, coral mortality will occur. In addition, ocean acidification increases as a result of increased carbon dioxide emissions (U.S. EPA, 2011b). As ocean acidification increases, the availability of calcium carbonate declines, which results in a decrease in calcification for corals (Fischlin et al., 2007). It is important to note that climate change is not the direct contributor to ocean acidification, but rather is a result of increased CO2 which also causes climate change (U.S. EPA, 2011b).

The world’s corals provide refuge and habitat for many marine species (Fischlin et al., 2007). For the world’s biggest reef, the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Government (n.d.) has identified climate change as the reef’s greatest long-term threat. On top of losing precious biodiversity, an Oxford Economics report estimates the economic losses that could be suffered to Australia’s economy would be around $37.7 billion (ABC News, 2009).

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the world’s second largest reef, has been suffering as a result of climate change as well. Currently, the reef, which is not only biologically but economically vital for the region, is suffering from coral bleaching as a result of warming ocean temperatures. The loss of the reefs which provide habitat for a variety of species has resulted in losses for fisheries, which depend on species that need the reef for their survival.

A coral reef devastated by bleaching (Climate Shift, 2009)

When bleaching occurs the coral loses its colour and its ability to function. While some corals may return to their natural state after bleaching if environmental conditions return to normal, fecundity and growth rates may still be negatively impacted (Nicholls et al., 2007). Below is an example of what coral bleaching looks like.

When thinking about the state of the world’s coral reefs, it is important to remember that “coral reefs are among the most vulnerable of all ecosystems to climate change” (Australian Government, n.d.). Overall, the state of the largest coral reefs in the world depends on mitigating stressors from multiple sources which threaten their survival. However, if we are to address any of these factors, climate change should be very high on the priority list.

If you are interested in any the references listed above or would like additional information check out the reference guide Kirstin prepared. Also take a look at Kirstin’s other blogs from Costa Rica.

 

Adapting to Climate Risk in Coastal Communities: A Review of Three Canadian Communities – Iqaluit, Nunavut

Iqaluit, Nunavut:

Susan Chalmers, Masters of Environmental Studies Candidate at York, concludes her blog series on climate change adaptation in Canadian coastal communities by discussing the research on climate adaptation activities undertaken by the City of Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Iqaluit, Nunavut (Photo: Dcysiv Moment -Flickr)

In this northern city, the Engineering and Sustainability Department has led climate change adaptation planning within the municipal government for the past five years. While this department coordinates it internally, a number of community organizations, various departments within the territorial and federal governments, and scientists play key roles in adapting to climate change in this capital city.

Presently, the Engineering and Sustainability Department is working with ICLEI Canada to modify its comprehensive, five step adaptation planning framework to suit this community’s needs. The revised framework will take into account the city’s size, resources and other related projects that are currently in progress. This customized planning tool will enable the municipal government to better prepare for climate change impacts and build on its preliminary adaptation efforts.

In 2007, the City of Iqaluit began preparing for climate change adaptation with the Climate Change Impacts, Infrastructure Risks and Adaptive Capacity Project. This project involved reviewing climate trends, understanding impacts to infrastructure, identifying potential adaptation strategies, and developing ways to enhance the city’s adaptive capacity. As part of the study, a range of actions were identified to address risks to buildings, roads, water resources and solid waste facilities from permafrost thaw, extreme weather events and coastal zone changes. Since then, the city has begun to implement some of the proposed adaptation initiatives. A landscape hazard mapping research team is assessing current permafrost conditions and determining the best building materials to use. As the city investigates the location of a new solid waste management site, begins construction and closes the existing landfill within the next two years, it will consider changing permafrost conditions and incorporate adaptation measures. Furthermore, an inventory of existing vulnerable infrastructure is being done as part of Iqaluit’s capital planning process and will be included in the new plan. Lastly, the city is developing a database and state of knowledge document in collaboration with researchers, which will highlight existing climate change research in Iqaluit. In the future, these tools can be updated as additional information becomes available.

Iqaluit, one of Canada's fastest growing communities (Photo: Agent Magenta - Flickr)

Since this initial project, the city has started to incorporate climate change adaptation within high level, long-term municipal plans. Two years ago, the local government updated its General Plan and included references to adaptation. The city plans to create mechanisms to gather more research and monitor effects as well as build adaptive capacity. The General Plan also outlines specific policies to address climate risks to infrastructure and stipulates the need to take a precautionary approach to future development. For example, “new municipal infrastructure will be designed and constructed to specifications that include withstanding projected changes in climate over their expected design life and meet best sustainability practices.” Similarly, “the design, location and operation of key infrastructure will integrate climate change considerations, including permafrost melt, sea level or relative land level rise, increased temperature, precipitation and extreme weather events.” The preceding policies and principle will be followed in the next residential subdivision development. City planners and external expert planners will review the latest climate change data for the area and apply adaptation measures if necessary. The local government also requests that consultants identify climate impacts and how they intend to address them in their proposals for the design of any new municipal buildings. Beyond these initiatives, the plan established water course setbacks near lakes and rivers to address potential inland flooding. Along the coastline, some land has been designated as open space to help protect nearby properties from coastal inundation.

While revising the General Plan, the municipality participated in the second phase of the Atuliqtuq initiative, led by the Nunavut Climate Change Partnership. This partnership has assisted seven Nunavut communities in developing adaptation plans, among other broad goals. Since the local government was already in the process of including climate change adaptation within its General Plan, the Atuliqtuq document was primarily a discussion paper instead of an official adaptation plan. It highlighted climate trends, impacts on infrastructure, climate adaptation within the General Plan, and the importance of sharing information amongst the many actors involved in climate change planning in Iqaluit.

Within the next two years, two additional municipal plans will incorporate climate change. The Emergency Response Plan is currently being revised to reflect a broader range of possible risks to the community, including climate change, and to identify feasible mitigation measures. In 2013, the city will release its first Sustainable Community Plan, which will outline the long-term community vision and goals along with the steps to achieve them. Climate change mitigation and adaptation will be a component. Shortly, the public engagement process will begin for the plan’s development. Residents, businesses, community organizations and other government agencies are encouraged to participate in the planning process through storytelling activities, open houses, workshops and community action teams. The city will use appreciative inquiry to guide these consultations.

Sources: Interviews with municipal employees; the Climate Change Impacts, Infrastructure Risks and Adaptive Capacity Project; 2010 General Plan; Atuliqtuq: Action and Adaptation in Nunavut: Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for Iqaluit; and Sustainable Iqaluit website – www.sustainableiqaluit.ca.

About Susan Chalmers: Susan is originally from Vancouver. She completed her BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies from the University of Victoria in 2008 and is pursuing her master’s degree at York. Her research interests relate to climate change policy-making and climate justice generally.