Friday, March 30, 2012

Canada's unrealistic greenhouse gas target

Over the past couple years, plenty of policy experts have stated that there is little chance that Canada will meets its 2020 greenhouse gas target (17% below 2005 levels, which is ~3% below 1990 levels) without a serious, and unlikely change in federal policy. I've been rather blunt about this myself:

It is harder to find a seat at a Canucks game than to find an expert who thinks the mix of existing and proposed federal regulations and policies will come close to achieving even the government's own weak emissions target for the year 2020, let alone the much lower target set in the Kyoto Protocol.

For readers not familiar enough with Vancouver's love for the Canucks to appreciate the analogy, the local hockey team just sold out is 400th consecutive game.

The strident nature of comments like mine might take away from an important point. The conclusion comes from the government's own analysis.

Here's a figure from last year's report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NTREE) as a part of Canada's reporting obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. Even in the "policy" scenario in the Environment Canada model (the green line), greenhouse gas emissions are ~30% over the government's own target.

If you're never heard of the NRTEE, it's job, since 1993, has been to "help Canada achieve sustainable development solutions that integrate environmental and economic considerations to ensure the lasting prosperity and well-being of our nation" through preparing reports, convening perspectives from all sides of issues, and offering advice to the government on "how best to reconcile the often divergent challenges of economic prosperity and environmental conservation". The NRTEE was cut in yesterday's budget.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Storm the Riding: UBC students getting climate change on the agenda

As was reported in Wednesday's Vancouver Sun, a group of UBC students, staff and faculty from a new campus organization UBCC350 will be canavassing door-to-door in BC Premier Christie Clarke's riding on Saturday to draw attention to climate change and carbon exports from Canada. However you feel about political action, it is terrific to see a group of young people willing to spend their free time taking a stance on a public issue. 

I've recently expressed my own view on the issue of carbon exports and the proposed oil pipelines, a view shared by UBCC350 founder and UBC political scientist George Hoberg and many in the group.

For more information, check UBCC350's website.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Climate science, then and now

Kudos to Peter Sinclair for this great video about a talk by Mike McCracken that was delivered in 1982:


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Heat wave factoids

A personal favourite, thus far: 

At 7 pm EDT, it was 8 degrees C warmer in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario (26C) than in El Paso, Texas (18C). Last time I was in Sault Ste Marie, it was September, and I had just completed a paddling trip that involved fear of snow and hypothermia.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Unprecedented heat wave continues

Assuming the ridge of high pressure lasts as long as forecasters expect, the heatwave in central and eastern North America, already unprecedented in the historical climate records, will rival the incredible Moscow heat wave of 2010. Temperature records are being set daily across the midwestern U.S., Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

Some of the record are simply stunning: I've been tweeting examples for the last couple days. in our national capital of Ottawa, the weekend temperature broke the previous high by 8 degrees Celsius.  The nighttime lows across a huge swath of the continent have been higher than the normal daytime maximum temperature. Today, it is 20 degrees Celsuis above normal across much of west-central Ontairo.

There have been plenty of other physical, biological and cultural impacts of the heat wave.  Here are three which came to my attention in the past day, I'd be happy to see more added in the comments:

- the Great Lakes are now almost entirely free of ice, as seen in these images from the Canadian ice Service. The heatwave has accelerated the end of the ice season. This should be "wettest" winter for the lakes since the beginning of the satellite record in 1980

- a friend in Madison, WI forwarded news about some unusually early bird appearances in the marshlands around town.

- if you type words like "patio" into Google Trends, you'll find a huge uptick in the search index, as people scramble for a place to have a beer on a hot March afternoon.


Monday, March 12, 2012

I wouldn't try skating across the Great Lakes either

Following upon last week's news about a shrinking "skating" season across Canada, a paper in the Journal of Climate reports that the length and extent of the Great Lakes ice season has decreased rather dramatically since the early 1970s.

You don't need library access to Journal of Climate to get a sense of the data. The Canadian Ice Service has plots of total Great Lakes ice cover going back to the 1980s (right). One things that's striking about the data, and is analysed at length in the paper, is the periodicity, which seems to follow the El Nino cycle; ice cover is lowest during the 1982/83, 1986/87, 1991/2. 1997/98, and 2009/10, all El Nino event.

El Nino, however, does not tell the whole story. Ice cover is also low during much of the past decade, with the exception of two winters, one of which was a strong La Nina winter (2008/9). And this winter, which was not included in the analysis in the paper will go down as one of the most ice-free. The map at right shows the departure in ice cover from normal. The dark reds covering Lake Erie, Lake Superior and parts of Lake Huron/Georgian Bay are regions where there's "normally" ice in March.

Right now, you could almost swim across Lake Superior, something even these guys probably did not dream was possible. This is one part of the planet where we may need to redefine normal.

Unlike the reported changes in the ice season on small lakes, the subject of our video, or the outdoor skating rink season, the change in Great Lakes ice can have a weather and climate effect. One, that's a bit counter-intuitive, and is perhaps the only piece of good news here for skiers, is that less ice on the lakes can lead to more "lake-effect" snows in east-central Ontario and upstate New York (ever wonder why there are big "freak" snowstorms north of Toronto and around Buffalo in late November? It's from a cold north-westerly winds mass passing over the unfrozen lakes an picking up moisture). Of course, that can only happen with sufficiently cold air masses, which were rare this winter.

The other effect, which as far as I know has not been quantified, is the change in "albedo" or reflectivity. We hear about this all the time with the Arctic - less ice means less reflection of incoming solar radiation. A similar positive climate feedback, albeit smaller in magnitude, should occur in this region dominated by freshwater lakes.


Monday, March 05, 2012

Climate change, outdoor skating and Canadian tradition

A clever new paper coming out in Environmental Research Letters later this week shows evidence that the outdoor skating season has shrunk in the past fifty years across Canada. The authors asked outdoor rink officials how they decide when the weather is right to start, and to the end, operations each year, and then applied the algorithm to historical data from Canadian towns and cities. The Guardian has a news story up describing some of the details.

I read an advance copy of the paper, and found that it very clearly compliments the widespread evidence that the lake ice "season" has been shrinking because of climate warming.  As we discussed in the video posted earlier this winter (below), climate change may have a profound impact on the winter traditions of many Canadian families, including my own.