As the winter season winds down, you may find yourself questioning if it ever really came in the first place. March 21st will mark the end of what some are calling the winter that never was.
There has been a lot of chatter across the country about this unusually warm and variable season, but how does this unseasonable winter fit within a larger trend of climate change, and what does it mean for Waterloo Region?
Like me, I’m sure many of you have missed the outdoor rinks in parks and backyards – some have even said that climate change signals the death of these Canadian hallmarks. As with any changing scenario, there are winners and losers. Municipalities have saved on their snow removal and salting budgets; however, those that make a living doing private snow removal haven’t been so lucky. Ski resorts and snowmobile trails have struggled with the lack of consistent snowfall and frequent melts, but on the other hand, these same trends have allowed golf courses to remain open for a longer season. Wild deer are plump and healthy as the conditions have made it easier for them to forage for food, while migratory birds are confused as to when they should be coming or going, and some decided not to leave at all.
This warm winter is part of a decade- and century-long trend of a changing climate – a story which climate scientists tell us by the numbers:
- According to the IPCC, the 100-year linear trend from 1906-2005 gives an average global temperature rise of 0.74°C, which is larger than the corresponding trend of 0.6 °C observed from 1901-2000.
- In the last decade alone (2000-2010), we have recorded 5 of the warmest years on record, while 13 of the top 20 warmest years have occurred in the most recent 20 years.
- Across Canada, winters are warming more than other seasons.
- Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.
As we move towards the reality of living in a changing climate, we must both continue to work towards the mitigation of any further climate change (by curbing greenhouse gas emissions, for one) as well as prepare for the inevitable changes and extreme weather events that will occur through the use of adaptation measures (a topic worthy of its own future blog).
What can we, as a community, do here in Waterloo Region to slow the climate change trend?
We can act locally – Although climate change is a global issue, it is well recognized that communities and municipalities have a unique and important role to play. For example, municipal governments currently have direct or indirect control over approximately 44 per cent of greenhouse emissions in Canada, through their influence over urban spatial and economic components including building construction and energy efficiency, local land use and transportation patterns, and economic development. While national and global efforts on climate change have stalled in recent years, momentum is gaining through both grassroots and municipal-led local action that is producing measureable results.
We can support municipal leadership– Here in Waterloo Region, local municipalities are making progress towards reducing their own emissions. As Regional Carbon Initiative members, the City of Kitchener, City of Waterloo and Region of Waterloo are using the support provided by Sustainable Waterloo Region to create thorough GHG inventory and action plans to reach a practical reduction target that balances environmental and financial responsibility with community need. The City of Cambridge is addressing GHG reduction within their Corporate Sustainability Plan.
We can work together – Of course not one of us alone can solve the climate challenge, but an entire community working together? There’s a lot of power in that. In an example of collective leadership, The Climate Collaborative is a partnership between Sustainable Waterloo Region, REEP Green Solutions and the Region of Waterloo, as well as area municipalities and local electric and natural gas utilities. By June of 2012, we will complete a community GHG emissions inventory and 10-year forecast that will show us how local emissions are produced through energy use, transportation, waste and agricultural activities in Waterloo Region. Based on those numbers, we’ll see where the greatest opportunities lie for making carbon reductions in this community, and ask you (yes, you!) to help identify what actions we can take to achieve those reductions.
How has your life been affected during this strange winter? Likely you’ve enjoyed a break from shovelling the driveway, perhaps you’ve retrieved your bike out of storage earlier than normal, and maybe you’re even disappointed that our generation won’t have the same chance of producing the next Gretzky on backyard rinks. Given the myriad of reactions to this warm winter, I can’t help but wonder if we will look back and remember this as “the winter of 2012 that never was”, or will we come to know this as part of an ongoing trend that will continue to change the way we live our lives?