Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
The sun bakes an icy Alberta landscape and glaciers are melting more quickly than before.

Why we shouldn’t call it global warming

Climate change refers to distinct and sizable changes in climate patterns over a period of at least a decade. It has taken place throughout the Earth’s history and includes periods of warm temperatures and ice ages. The term  “global warming” is less accurate, since it addresses only the heating of the planet and not the cooling. The accelerated rate at which climate change is occurring and the inability of many organisms to adapt to the rapidly changing environment is cause for concern and has triggered significant and coordinated scientific research to assess, confirm and respond to the planetary warming trend.

Effects of climate change on local species

Given enough time, species can adapt. However, the current rapid speed of climate change does not allow some animals the evolutionary elbow room needed to adapt.

The polar bear is a prime example of a species struggling in the face of climate change. It hunts seals from the platform provided by frozen seawater. With a diminishing sea ice area and a decrease in ice thickness in the North, however, the polar bear must swim greater distances in search of prey. Although a remarkable swimmer, it is unable to cover vast stretches of open water. Some bears have swum themselves to exhaustion — and death. As a consequence, the polar bear is moving inland in search of food, where it represents an increasing danger to humans.

In British Columbia, the effect of climate change is visible. You can’t see the forest for the red trees, and the trees are red because the mountain pine beetle is killing them. This insect is devastating the forests in the British Columbia Interior. Fire suppression and the selective deforestation of trees not favoured by the species are allowing large numbers of beetles to flourish due to increased habitat. And climate change, in the form of milder winters, is expanding the range of the beetle and worsening the already existing problem.

Frigid winters usually control the number of beetle larvae that hatch. But milder winters have caused a shift in the previously stable relationship between the lodgepole pine and the mountain pine beetle. Now epidemic numbers of beetle eggs are hatching. The larvae proceed to tunnel beneath the tree’s bark, compromising the tree’s circulation and effectively starving it. The beetle also carries a fungus that lowers the tree’s natural defences against such infestations. Dead trees then become a fire danger that threatens wildlife and humans.

Whether changes in climate affect large mammals or tiny insects, the impacts can be widespread.

Canadian Geographic retrospective

Canada’s climates are changing more rapidly

By Morley K. Thomas
May 1974

The author here, a noted climatologist, starts the article by saying that Canada must reckon with the possibility that the climate might change.  Thomas goes on to state that forecasting future trends is difficult because not enough is known about atmospheric processes. However, he predicts that when more is known about the physical causes of long term trends in meteorological variables that meaningful climatic forecasts will be possible.

The movement over the last 20 years of the media reporting on places in Canada turning into banana belts or flood zones has made the public aware of world-wide food and energy shortages. The distinct climate zones of the country are discussed, from the moderate weather of coastal British Columbia to the more extreme climates inland to the variable climates in the East tempered by the large bodies of waters present. With such variations across the country, the author says it is easy to see why small changes in weather seen locally can be overlooked in the big picture of climate change.

Several theories behind climate change are introduced including astronomical theories and geophysical theories. The former have to do with variations in such things the solar energy output and the latter are based on changes in the earth’s crust and migration of the poles etc.

Much is made of the little that is known at that time however the article does touch on carbon dioxide emissions coming from human activity and gives a short history of the several billion years of geological history — noting that there have been at least four major glaciations of the earth’s surface.

The article concludes with the fact that no country is isolated in its own climatic fluctuations and that climate change exerts social, economic and political pressures and is something we must all learn more about.

Cold warriors

By Lisa Gregoire
October 2008

Half a century ago, a group of Inuit was relocated to Grise Fiord, Nunavut, in Canada’s High Arctic. They faced huge challenges then, and continue to now, as Canada’s northern people are at the frontlines of climate change.

The settlement has a population of 141 according to the 2006 Census and is up against a potable water supply that is in jeopardy due to melting glaciers and shrinking hunting ranges due to reduced sea ice coverage throughout the year.

Moved there from northern Quebec and Baffin Island by the Canadian government in what some believe was an attempt to assert sovereignty in the Arctic, the families have gone from hunting by dogsled to 9 to 5 jobs and logging on to Facebook.

The adjustments the close-knit community have had to make include getting used to 24 hour sunlight in the summer and the opposite in the winter, as well as changes to the land which affect hunting and other ways of life. The changes seen in polar bear populations are explored as this symbol of the north is affected alongside the Inuit. While some Inuit say there are more bears these days, scientists’ data show dwindling numbers.

One person interviewed noted that so many people in the south want to be warm while people in the north need, have a right, to be cold.

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