As a northern nation, Canada is a key barometer for climate change. Over the past 50 years, average temperatures in this country have risen by 1.2°C, almost twice the global rate. The Mackenzie Basin in the Northwest Territories is one of three climate hot spots in the world, along with Lake Baikal in Siberia and northwestern Alaska.
After decades of debate, the world’s scientific community generally agrees that the winds of climate change are sweeping our planet. But what does “climate change” really mean?
Changes in the Earth’s climate are a natural and cyclical phenomenon. Historically, the climate has fluctuated between warmer and colder conditions, such as the ice ages. The greenhouse effect — the rise in temperature on Earth when gases in the atmosphere, such as water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, trap and reflect heat back toward the Earth’s surface — is also a natural occurrence. Without it, the average temperature on Earth would be a frigid -18°C.
Daily human activities, such as burning fossil fuels to drive our cars or heat and cool our homes, are precipitating changes in these natural systems. Increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are intensifying the greenhouse effect, which may cause the planet to warm up at a rate never before experienced in human history. It is already resulting in changing weather patterns worldwide and more frequent extremes in weather, such as hurricanes and droughts. Global warming, which strictly means an increase in the world’s mean temperature, is often defined under popular usage as warming caused by human activity.
The changing climate is also altering the Canadian landscape and will touch Canadians in every aspect of their lives, from ski conditions to air quality. This thematic highlights major shifts and what the future may hold in Canada’s five main regions, taking into account the degree of uncertainty in climate change projections. It also broaches the question of how Canadians will have to adapt to their changing surroundings.
A self-running animation draws a line graph that depicts the rising average temperature of the earth from 1860 to 1999. When that animation has finished, the narration invites the viewer to see a second animation, which uses yellow and red to show the rising temperature of the globe, particularly in the Arctic regions.
Today the climate is changing at an accelerating rate. Temperature records indicate the Earth has warmed significantly over the past hundred years. All ten of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1980.
Click where indicated to see temperature change projections through the 22nd century.