Climate change

Elling Lien, inspired by academic, environmental and political activist George Monbiot’s book Heat: How To Stop the Planet From Burning, looks at some of the local numbers and asks, “what does St. John’s and the rest of the province have do to help stop the planet from burning?”

The planet is getting warmer, arctic sea ice is melting, sea levels are rising, weather is getting stranger and more severe…

To doubt that man-made climate change is happening, one has to totally ignore the evidence.

Every week a new detail is revealed.

Recently, for example, Arctic researchers reported that several ponds, which had been around for more than 6000 years, have dried up completely. The Arctic, referred to as a climate change canary, is a sensitive warning spot that is able to let people know of greater oncoming danger.

And those dried up ponds, and melting glaciers are telling the rest of the planet to wake up out of it. Unless we do something quickly, and on a large scale, a period of relatively stable climate that has existed for more than 10,000 years will be upturned.

We in Canada, right here in Newfoundland, have to make very serious reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Like, now.

“Global warming,” you may be saying to yourself, “bring it on!”

“It’ll be nice to have longer summers and a little more sun.”

You wouldn’t be alone.

In fact, the Newfoundland Climate Change Action Plan, a provincial government document published by the Environment and Conservation department in 2006 includes a line with a similar optimistic tone:

“Climate change could also have beneficial impacts such as a longer growing and frost-free season,” it says.

Not everyone agrees that it will be so pleasant.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, a 700-page report released on October 30, 2006 by esteemed economist Nicholas Stern for the British government, says that climate change threatens to be the greatest and widest-ranging disaster ever seen by humankind.

His models show that if the world is to continue releasing greenhouse gases at the rates we are now, there is a 50 per cent chance that the world’s temperatures will rise by more than five degrees Celsius.

When global temperatures were 5 degrees lower than they are now, we were in the last Ice Age, and most of Newfoundland and the rest of Canada was under a kilometer of ice.

So if you think five degrees of global warming is going to mean a lower heat bill and more fun in the sun, some people might think you’re delusional.

Scientists are predicting more storms, and of greater intensity. More precipitation (including snow), floods, hail, etc.

A number of geologists recently suggested that glacial melting due to climate change will unleash pent-up pressures in the Earth’s crust, causing earthquakes around the world. Not that long ago, in 1929, an offshore earthquake caused a tsunami which struck the Burin peninsula.

Government and business leaders around the world are beginning to realize—since Katrina, for example—that the economic cost of ignoring climate change might be much greater than the cost of doing something about it.

Here in Newfoundland, we go about our lives. What can a province of half a million people do in a world of six and a half billion? What effect are we having? And why should we do anything if no one else around us seems to be making an effort?

The 2001 Climate Change Action Plan agreed to by governors from New England and premiers from eastern Canada, (including Newfoundland and Labrador) called for, to start, a 10 per cent reduction from 1990 levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by the year 2020.

But even 10 per cent is not enough, the plan admits.

“The best science available at present,” it reads, “indicates that attaining this goal will require reductions in GHG emissions of approximately 75–85% below current levels.”

According to Environment Canada, in 2005 Newfoundland and Labrador released 10.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, roughly 20.4 tonnes for every person.  In order to make an 85 per cent cut from 1990 levels, we would need to make an annual cut of 16.7 tonnes per person. In his book, Monbiot says Canada’s goal should be to reach a 94 per cent cut from 1990 levels by the year 2030.

Cutting back by those amounts will take a huge group effort. Areas like home heating, waste and transportation will need some careful rethinking. Over the next few issues of The Scope we will talk to some of the people who can help lead the way.



At 40 per cent of the total, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the province is transportation, according to Environment Canada. Road transportation is particularly high at 19 per cent of our total emissions (1,960,000 tonnes per year.)

Since we don’t have a rail system and flying in goods is much more expensive, transport trucks are the way we get most of our stuff from the mainland.

Approximately 60,000 to 70,000 trucks come into the province each year, according to the province’s Climate Change Action Plan 2006.

Such a strong reliance on imported food is potentially dangerous, says Sherril Gilbert, Project Coordinator of the Food Security Network. She says Newfoundlanders needs to be protected from the negative effects of climate change — if, for example, the cost of food rises dramatically because of low supply or high shipping costs, people here are going to suffer.

The province should decrease its reliance on imported food, she says. And one of the ways to do that is to start growing more of our own.
Before air freight was cheap, no one but Queen Victoria thought of demanding perishable food from the other side of the world. She is alleged to have offered a large reward to anyone who could bring her a fresh mangosteen. …No one was able to claim it.

—from Chapter 10 of Heat.

What should Newfoundland be doing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions related to transporting food?

I’ve heard so many people say that by the time food gets here to this province, it’s not very fresh any more, that we’re sort of at the end of the line. …Then you have the added challenge of the isolated regions where food has to travel by plane or by boat to get to those places. So one of the things that we’re looking at, and we hope to look at in greater depth in the future, are northern greenhouses. We know they’re being experimented with in northern Manitoba, and they’re meeting a lot of success there.

So that would be one option, to increase the amount of food that is available locally so that food doesn’t have to travel, causing not only greenhouse gases but damage to the soil by the trucks from the exhaust.

What would you like to see happen with the greenhouses?

It would be wonderful to be able to do some sort of [skill-sharing program.] I think we have to get people learning from the experience of others—people who are already doing it—so that it doesn’t cost us more than it needs to, and we need to look at what is working well. What we see that is working well are these greenhouses being introduced to the north, so that people can gain new skills, so that more people can be eating more of the culturally appropriate, traditional foods that they’re used to. It would make more food available and require less food to be shipped in.

I’ve traveled over the province in the past year and I’ve been to every region of the province. It seems to be a very individual sort of thing, so if someone is interested in having a greenhouse, they will get one and they will do it for themselves and their family. But on the community level is where [The Food Security Network] would like to see this happen…

We’re losing our skills in farming and gardening, we’re losing our skills in cooking, and transmitting our cultural preferences to our children. These days it’s very easy to go over to a fast food place and buy your supper…

What would you like to see the provincial government do?

Provincial government could raise the income support rates so people can afford to buy healthier food, and they could also make it easier for people to buy food locally. Fruits and vegetables are always going to be a little more expensive than boxed, packaged foods, so people need the income to be able to buy those things. They need higher employment assistance rates, lower rates for daycare, lower rates for home heating fuels. All this needs to be possible so that people can then go and buy the food that is good for them.

What local municipal governments can do is—and we’re seeing this trend across the country—is implement a food charter… In Manitoba there is even a provincial food charter, which just was implemented this past year.

A food charter means that the planning departments would be brought into things… So farmers markets could be made possible at low cost to farmers, for example.

You know, I can’t believe there’s no farmer’s market down by the harbour in St. John’s.

It’s shocking! …That’s something that we really need here.

Another thing we need to involve municipal planners with is urban agriculture. To set aside spaces for these urban gardens so communities to come and work in them.

…I was in the grocery store the other day and I saw a package of fresh green peas that had come all the way from China. What do you think when you see that kind of thing?

We can grow peas here!

If we really put our minds to it… our hearts… all of ourselves… I think that we can grow almost everything that we need here.

How do you convince people that’s the case?

It’s not going to be easy, because I think people have become so used to just going to a box or a bag and taking out their food.

Like their mangoes in winter…

…Yes, like having mangos in winter, (which is a real treat.)

Or having mangos at all.

Bananas year-round!

But really, it’s such a joy to eat seasonally and eat locally.