March 10, 2008 —
A report, prepared by a research team led by University of Ottawa geography professor Robert McLeman, points to key changes all levels of government must consider regarding climate change impacts and adaptation needs in seasonal-economy communities. The report describes results from a year-long study of how rapid changes in climate are affecting the economic and social well-being of several small communities in Addington Highlands, a large cottage-country township equidistant from Ottawa and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
The study, partially funded by Natural Resources Canada, received input from over 150 residents and business operators in Addington Highlands, where forestry, construction, outdoor tourism and recreation services are mainstays of the economy. Many of the report’s recommendations focus on areas of government responsibility not directly related to the environment.
McLeman finds that, in the past thirty years winters have become shorter in length, have fewer periods of extreme cold and less snow accumulation than in the past. Spring thaws are coming several weeks earlier, and summer temperatures are warmer and less variable than in the mid-twentieth century. It is generally windier in the area year-round, with sudden extreme windstorms called “microbursts” becoming more common.
“These changes present a mixture of potential risks and opportunities for the thousands of residents of the area”, says Dr. McLeman. “This area was selected for study because it shares many characteristics with other smaller communities across Canada. Its residents have historically shown a high capacity to adapt to whatever climatic conditions are thrown at them. But a combination of demographic changes and government-created barriers are undermining their capacity to adapt to the current rapid changes in climate.”
As an example, Dr. McLeman pointed to the lack of doctors, emergency medical clinics and pharmacies in the area. “The average age of the population is over fifty and climbing. At the same time, road and ice conditions are becoming more treacherous in winter, summer heat waves are more frequent, and there is increasing the risk of property damage, injury and power outages due to fire and wind events. This dynamic will increasingly stress an already inadequate emergency health care situation, because at a time when the population is becoming more vulnerable, the environment is becoming more hazardous.”
The report also emphasizes the need for higher levels of government to reverse the downloading of financial responsibility for essential services and infrastructure to local governments, force cell phone and broadband internet providers to improve services in rural areas, reduce government red-tape for rural businesses, and provide seed money to facilitate local development of wind and bio-mass energy production.
“Very real changes in climate are happening right now, right on the doorstep of Parliament Hill and Canada’s most heavily populated region. We can not wish them away,” finds McLeman. “It’s time to stop talking and start making serious plans about how we are going to adapt. At present, government inaction, lack of vision and outdated policies are creating unnecessary barriers to adaptation.”
Copies of the full report will be available from the project website www.addington.uottawa.ca.
To arrange interviews regarding this study please contact Dr. Robert McLeman, Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Ottawa, at (office) (613) 562-5800 ext 1051 or (cell) (613) 447-2278 or email@example.com