Environment featured

Bryn Jones-Vaillancourt: Can Nova Scotia weather the storm?

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – With the historic Paris climate agreement in late 2015, most nations have agreed to work towards stronger greenhouse gas reductions.  However, will that be enough? And is Nova Scotia doing its share in that reduction?

William Turner: snow storm, steam boat off a harbour’s mouth

What’s more, the changing climate is causing changing weather patterns, coupled with more frequent and intense storms.  As weather intensifies and climate changes will Nova Scotia be resilient in our new reality?

Our province’s economy is built on resources from forestry, fisheries, mining and agriculture. Many Nova Scotians make their living off the environment.  Over the last several decades these resource-based industries have accelerated pressure on ecosystems across our province.

On land the forestry industry has returned to more antiquated harvesting strategies. With the introduction of biomass and aggressive clearcutting province-wide, we are decreasing Nova Scotia’s natural resiliency.

Biomass provides up to 3% of our total electric consumption through the 60-megawatt plant located in Port Hawkesbury.  Biomass is often promoted by industry and government as a renewable and net zero carbon energy source. But the idea of burn a tree – plant a tree to achieve net zero carbon emissions is an overly simplified idea that has been proven inaccurate.

Chris Miller, a conservation biologist with Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), has concerns over Nova Scotia’s response to climate change.

“Biomass harvesting is a real concern, we need reasonable management that protects forests and allows large interconnected protected spaces. This is important for biodiversity,” he told me.

The current forestry management policies of government are creating vast areas of deforestation.  These policies are decreasing biodiversity and significantly reducing the ability of our natural world to thrive.  

When we clearcut we lose the carbon storage that vegetation and soil provide. We also lose the temperature-moderating qualities of forests. The decrease of biodiversity and the reduction of carbon storage makes for a perfect storm and once-healthy forests will turn into an arid landscape.

Over the last three decades, annual average temperatures in our province have increased by 0.5 degrees Celsius. We have also seen a modest reduction in annual precipitation

Scientists anticipate that by 2050 average temperatures will increase by 2.3 degrees Celsius.  By century’s end scientists predict average temperature will be 3.9 degrees Celsius warmer and and precipitation will increase by 95 millimeters per year.

That spells trouble.

David Garbary, a biology professor at St. Francis Xavier University, believes changing weather patterns will have significant impacts across the region.   

As the majority of our population lives along the coast, erosion caused by climatic changes is a real concern. That threat varies depending on where you live.

Due to different soil/rock compositions the Antigonish area is at much greater risk to coastal erosion than the Atlantic coast, says Garbary.  In the Antigonish region the substrate is softer whereas along the Atlantic coast is made of primarily bedrock formations. Areas more prone to erosion are at higher risk from more frequent extreme weather because of climate change.

Professor Garbary cautions against fortifying coastal areas as these installations often have unintended consequences and often just shift problems to another location.

So what to do?

There is consensus in the environmental community that stronger legislation is needed.  Provincial and municipal governments across our province must enact legislation and bylaws to restrict further development along the coast.  

Creating larger buffers along rivers and wetlands, protecting remaining wetlands altogether, and working to restore wetlands lost to development will help.

Forestry management must be modernized, and clearcutting must end.  

There is a small window of opportunity to fix our historic mistakes. With a holistic perspective to climate action, that is beyond simple greenhouse gas reduction, and that employs current science we can increase our resiliency.   

If we do nothing Nova Scotia will enter a period where simple day to day life is significant struggle for everyone- status quo is not an option.

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