News from Citizens At City Hall (CATCH) in Hamilton, Ontario
Posted May 10th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
(A Brief Foreword from NAL publisher Doug Draper – As you read this, and I hope you do, keep in mind that the information and concerns contained in this post are just as relevant for the greater Niagara region as they are for neighbouring in Hamilton, and so are the suggestions made for lifestyle changes that can help reduce emissions of carbon-based, greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.)
Hamilton, Ontario – Ontario’s minister of the environment and climate change had some blunt advice when he spoke at the climate resilient cities conference in Hamilton. Glenn Murray offered detailed evidence that climate change already threatens our food and water security and it’s going to get much worse.
While he declared that “there’s nothing that Hamilton lacks to be the kick-ass city in Canada”, the former mayor of Winnipeg made clear that “fundamental transformation” in our urban form is required including intensification and no more suburban sprawl.
“I want to take you to the context of where I think we as a group of leaders have to understand and what the dynamics are,” he began. “And I will just offer the proposition that the two biggest crises that we face on the adaptation and resilience side are food security and water security.”
He pointed to a Toronto storm three years ago that dumped a month’s rain in one hour and tore out 80 metres of GO train track “that cost us $600 million which could basically pay for half of [Hamilton’s] LRT.” And he cited “false springs” that wiped out the local apple crop in 2012. He also explained the link of many extreme weather events to the melting arctic ice cap and its effect on the polar vortex.
“The jet stream has slowed down by about 20 percent which means that the periods which are wet last longer, the periods which are dry last longer and that causes us to have so many droughts as we saw in the prairies, fires, invasions of species – the beetles that are destroying our forests,” Minister Murray explained.
“And then we have moisture levels on the prairies that we haven’t seen since the last ice age – and if we didn’t have the modern irrigation we have now we probably would be courting if not in the dust bowl, and for the first time Calgary and Regina had air quality warnings because of the level of smoke from fires on the prairies.”
He spoke a week before a tinder dry forest and 32C temperatures helped fuel the catastrophic fire in Fort McMurray despite its near sub-arctic location at the same latitude as the northern tip of Ontario and lower Hudson’s Bay.
Murray reminded his audience that last year’s “disruptive spring” experiences included four to five metres of snow “on the streets of Halifax and St John’s” in the last week of April and asked what that would have done in Hamilton. “No one had much of a garden in Atlantic Canada last year. That was also the summer that we had fires on the Prairies the soft fruit crop blossomed in January in BC and died.”
Focusing particularly on food security, the Minister argued that the jet stream destabilization has “had some very bad impacts on our ability to produce food” and warned that “if you want to destabilize a government, all you have to do as a society is just have a food or water shortage for any period of time.”
As an example, he pointed to the extreme drought in the Middle East in 2006-2011 where there was “an 80 percent food crop loss in northern Syria and the fertile crescent about 1.6 million people lost their farms and became the underclass in Damascas, which was according to the Pentagon a swift threat multiplier in the destabilization of the region and the on-going war and then the insertion of terrorism.” Murray noted that “ISIS is hanging onto the three largest irrigation dams … so they’re obviously sophisticated in assessing the power of control of water.”
Bringing this closer to home, the Minister detailed the development of the California drought where “80 percent of water use is for agriculture” and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has found the description of extreme drought no longer adequate and has introduced “exceptional drought” into its terminology.
“You see the blood red stain in the middle of California ,” he said pointing to one of his slides. “That’s a piece of real estate that’s very important to your life and to my life because we import $4 billion worth of food as a northern community.”
California, he explained, provides “95 percent of all US broccoli, 92 percent of strawberries, 91% of grapes, 90 percent of tomatoes, 84 percent of all lettuce” and similar percentages to Ontario. While noting that almost all of this is grown in that blood red stained area, Murray warned he “could keep going with all the other things your mother told you to eat lots of when you were growing up.”
A particular “perversity” in the California situation is that nut and pistachio growers are “have now bought surplus drilling equipment from Alberta” and are “going down 2000 feet into the aquifers of California leading to collapse, whereas the vegetable farmers can only afford equipment that goes down about 200 feet.”
Murray also explained that the climate change we’re already seeing is certain to get significantly worse because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 40 to 250 years.
“So looking back right now we are experiencing the full force of carbon dioxide levels from 1916, in the middle of the First World War, and we’re just now experiencing the initial impacts of carbon dioxide from 1976 when I graduated from high school.”
He underlined that “sobering” thought by noting that “the rapid explosion of the suburbs in the fifties – the great low density carbon intensive neighbourhoods – all the weight of all of that activity and change in urban form has not yet impacted.”
Murray connected this to the province’s commitment to rapid transit by inviting the audience to look at the Yonge subway line in Toronto from the vantage point of the top of the CN tower. “You can clearly see where it is because at every subway stop there are spikes of large commercial and residential buildings all the way up to York,” he said.
He compared that to the Bloor line where city councillors and their residents fight intensification. “There’s a fight over a four-storey building in Etobicoke – they’re fighting it because it’s ‘too intense’. This is the absurdity,” Murray declared.
He didn’t suggest this might happen along Hamilton’s LRT line, but the link was obvious, and he underlined it by the results of a mapping study of taxes versus density that confirmed “all the neighbourhoods who use a lot of infrastructure for a very small tax base are well dispersed suburbs, big box formula subdivisions, and Hamilton.”
He ended with advice to individual Hamiltonians: “Drive less, get an electric vehicle, congratulations on getting a rapid transit line in Hamilton and please use it. Or walk, it’s a beautiful city to walk in.”
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