Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 19 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Tuesday, October 7, 2003
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
6:18 p.m. to examine the impact of climate change on Canada's agriculture,
forests and rural communities and the potential adaptation options focusing on
primary production, practices, technologies, ecosystems and other related areas.
Senator Jack Wiebe (Deputy Chairman) in the Chair.
The Deputy Chairman: Honourable senators, as you are all aware, during
the last several months we have done a considerable study on climate change, how
or if we can adapt to climate change and whether, in fact, the climate is
This evening we have the opportunity to hear once again from the Department
of Natural Resources. We thank them sincerely for appearing before us again.
I understand that this is the first time Mr. Lemmen has appeared before the
committee. However, Mr. Miller, you were gracious enough to come last time. We
are pleased to have you here again this evening.
As a result of those meetings, the committee has issued an interim report. We
hope that you have had an opportunity to go through it. We are now in the
process of writing our final report. We encourage you to give us your ideas on
the kind of direction you would like to see governments or individuals
throughout Canada take in regard to climate change.
Mr. Gordon Miller, Director General, Science Branch, Canadian Forest
Service, Natural Resources Canada: I am pleased to be here today to discuss
with you the effects of climate change.
To begin with, the last time we appeared before the committee was on November
28, 2002. I would like to introduce some other people who have come to explain
what Natural Research Canada is up to these days when it comes to climate change
impacts. They are Mr. Don Lemmen, Ms. Pamela Kertland, Ms. Nancy Kinsbury and
Mr. Mike Flannigan. They bring different kinds of expertise in case that is
useful to the committee members in our discussion.
First, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to appear
again and to explain some of the recent events at NRCan, as well as to talk
about some of our reactions to the report. On behalf of the department, I would
like to compliment the committee. We think the report is a very good one. It has
brought together a lot of information from different perspectives that will help
us in our discussions on impacts and adaptation.
We are the current representatives from NRCan. However, there are many other
people interested in this issue. You heard from some of our researchers, in
particular, last winter. We circulated your report to them for feedback and they
were equally impressed by its excellent synthesis of where things are.
As we go through our presentation, and I suspect in some of our subsequent
discussion, we will be highlighting many of the points Mr. Dhaliwal made in his
letter to the committee subsequent to the interim report being released.
Without further ado, I will turn it over to Mr. Lemmen to begin the
Mr. Donald Lemmen, Acting Executive Director, Climate Change Impacts and
Adaptation Directorate, Earth Sciences Sector, Natural Resources Canada: Mr.
Chairman, reflecting the approaches that we have taken within our
respective programs at Natural Resources Canada, we have titled our deck,
``Adapting to Address the Risks of Our Changing Climate.'' This is consistent
with the themes presented in your interim report. It recognizes that impacts of
climate change represent a risk, and that despite the uncertainties about the
exact magnitude and timing of these impacts, there is a need to manage that
risk, in part, through adaptation.
The second slide illustrates the events of the past summer of which we are
all very aware. Unfortunately, they reared their heads over the last couple of
weeks and serve to highlight the fact that we are, indeed, vulnerable to climate
Some places in Europe experienced the warmest summer in at least 500 years.
There were more than 10,000 deaths directly or indirectly related to the severe
heat wave in France.
Forest fires ravaged much of Western Canada. We are aware of the tremendous
property losses that occurred in the Kelowna and Kamloops regions. The fires
were associated with the driest year in 104 years of record keeping at Kelowna.
It is just over a week since Hurricane Juan made landfall at Halifax and
continued to sweep northward across Prince Edward Island, causing severe damage
and impacts that will be felt for months and, in many cases, years.
Severe climate events have occurred in the past. It is not possible to state
that these recent events are a product of climate change. However, we can say
that projections of future climate indicate that such events are likely to
become more common and, perhaps, more intense.
Turning to the third slide, this committee's report summarizes what it heard
from many witnesses. The climate is changing at a rate that is unprecedented in
the past 10,000 years.
Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing the root
cause of human-induced climate change. However, as recognized within the Climate
Change Plan for Canada, even if rapid and sustained greenhouse gas emission
reductions are achieved, the impacts of climate change will continue to be felt
for many decades, and adaptation actions will be required.
Moving to the next slide, Natural Resources Canada leads and contributes to a
large number of initiatives related to climate change adaptation. Of interest to
this committee in particular are the activities of the Climate Change Impacts
and Adaptation Program, which our office oversees, delivered by NRCan on behalf
of the Government of Canada, as well as a wide range of activities related to
climate change carried out by the Canadian Forest Service.
With respect to the program that our directorate delivers, it is important to
recognize that the impacts and adaptation program examines all sectors and
regions of Canada. In other words, its scope is much broader than natural
The program undertakes three main activities, the first of which is funding
of impacts and adaptation research, as well as building research capacity.
Since the start of this year, the program has funded 36 new research projects
to a total of $3.59 million. Eleven of those projects address forestry issues.
Proposals on agriculture, with a specific emphasis on drought impacts and the
implications for farm operations and management, are presently under review.
In addition, projects such as the half-million dollars in funding to examine
the impact of climate change on water supply and demand in the South
Saskatchewan River basin will be of direct interest to this committee.
The second major activity of the program is networking. In the first phase of
its hearings, the committee heard from many witnesses who are associated with
C-CIARN. C-CIARN was established by Natural Resources Canada and is funded
through our program to bring stakeholders together with researchers and help
ensure that the research undertaken contributes to managing the risks presented
by climate change. The total membership in C-CIARN across Canada exceeds 2,400
Finally, the impacts and adaptation program is evolving to include a role in
coordination of policy analysis and development at both the federal and national
Building on that point and turning to the next slide, I would like to
emphasize that there is strong recognition among federal government departments
of the need to proceed collaboratively with respect to climate change impacts
and adaptation. One important reason for this is that any adaptation decisions
that are taken within one sector will have significant implications for many
others. A prime example is the linkages between agriculture, energy, communities
and recreation with respect to water resources. The potential for climate change
to increase conflict among these different consumers of water is one of the
points highlighted in your interim report.
Second, Natural Resources Canada co-chairs, with Alberta, the
federal-provincial-territorial working group that is tasked with implementing
the national adaptation framework. This group is presently focusing on two key
elements of that framework — building awareness of the issue among key
decision makers in both government and the private sector, as well as developing
tools and strategies to assist those decision makers in including climate change
adaptation in their risk management approach.
Turning to the next slide, the program recognizes that we need to approach
the adaptation issue through at least three steps. The first step is to build
awareness among governments, the private sector and individuals that adaptation
is a necessary complement to mitigation in addressing climate change. I would
certainly state that the report of this committee is a very important
contribution to raising that awareness.
A second step is to better assess the risk that climate change presents to
Canadians. That risk assessment begins with understanding how we are presently
vulnerable to climate. A key factor is understanding our capacity to adapt and
the possible existing barriers to allowing us to adapt.
Future vulnerability involves factoring in anticipated future conditions.
While it is desirable to continuously improve our models of future climate,
social and economic conditions, it still has to be accepted that there will
always be some level of uncertainty, and therefore we need to look at this as a
risk management issue.
The third step is the development of policies and programs to manage that
risk. Increasing the capacity of Canadians to adapt to current climate
variability, as well as projected changes, should be a key consideration of such
I will turn it back to Mr. Miller to talk about Canadian Forest Service
Mr. Miller: Many of the points highlighted by Mr. Lemmen are among
those we are working on at the Canadian Forest Service. Slide 7 illustrates the
major framework we are using to deal with impacts and adaptation, which is
pointedly taking a national vulnerability approach where we are looking at how
forest communities and the forest industry are at risk as a result of climate
change. We think this approach will help us deal with the communities, in
particular, and will give us a good framework for how we view climate change in
the future as we try to develop strategies for coping with it. Certainly, being
able to assess vulnerability is a key consideration when looking at the forests,
the forest industry and forest communities.
We are very much involved with C-CIARN. There is a forestry network based in
Edmonton, and I think you have heard presentations from that group in the past.
One goal, among others, is to set up a network to look at the possible
consequences of climate change for communities, the forests and the forest
industry. This network will focus on potential adaptation strategies that will
allow the forest sector to minimize the negative impacts of climate change while
taking advantage of any new opportunities that may arise.
An example of such an adaptation strategy is the concept of FireSmart
Landscapes that was presented to the committee earlier by CFS researchers. The
CFS is also about to initiate an analysis of potential new approaches to forest
fire management in Canada. This is as a result of what happened in B.C. this
summer, among other things. An analysis of the links between forest fires and
climate change will also be included in that broader analysis.
Looking at slide 8, I would like to point out to the committee that we are
continuing to make significant progress in many areas of climate change
research. Your interim report correctly emphasizes the importance of climate and
impact models in providing information on a scale relevant to addressing real
issues on the ground.
Using regional climate model output, researchers at the Canadian Forest
Service can now derive projections of future fire incidents and pest outbreaks
on a scale as fine as five by five kilometres, as depicted by the map on the
slide. Nonetheless, this level of analysis is presently only possible for
Western Canada and considers only one of a wide range of possible climate change
The need for more extensive research on social and economic impacts of
climate change in the forest sector is currently evidenced by the events of this
past summer and will be included in the forest fire analysis that I mentioned
earlier. I might add that we are also looking at the mountain pine beetle
situation in B.C. in this context.
Finally, climate change impacts and adaptation is a key concern of the
international research and policy communities and was a major focus of the World
Forestry Congress held two weeks ago in Quebec City.
Moving on to slide 9, certainly climate change impacts and adaptation
activity within the Canadian Forest Service is designed to assist forest
managers to include climate change as part of their risk management framework
and to ensure that adaptation decisions are based on the latest, highest quality
research available. There is a growing interest in industry in understanding the
possible consequences for the resource so that they can incorporate those into
their long- term plans for forest management.
To conclude, I would like to emphasize that climate change presents a risk to
all regions and virtually every sector in Canada, including agriculture and
forestry. In fact, we probably should be looking at how we can stimulate more
interaction among the sectors to better understand at a community level what
kind of strategies on adaptation would be appropriate. We need to continue to
assess both the risks and opportunities presented by climate change, recognizing
that there may be environmental, social and economic consequences with which we
will have to deal. To understand where we are most vulnerable, we need to assess
our ability to adapt and then the adaptation options available.
``Adaptation'' is really another word for ``risk management.'' It is prudent
activity that will not only reduce the impacts of future climate change, but
will increase our resiliency to current climate variability, as Mr. Lemmen
pointed out in the case of Hurricane Juan, and some other events like the ice
storm here in Ottawa not too many years ago.
Everyone has a role to play in adapting — governments, industry and
individuals — and it is extremely important to undertake adaptation in a
coordinated manner so that actions in one sector do not have unanticipated
negative consequences for other activities.
My colleagues and I will be very happy to take any questions that committee
members may pose.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you very much. I have a long list of
Mr. Lemmen, I was struck by the slide on page 3. From my perspective, this
says it all. You talked about building awareness and the important role of
education. You say that even if rapid and sustained emission reductions are
achieved, the impacts of climate change will continue to be felt for many
decades and adaptation actions will be required.
One of the problems we noted as we travelled throughout Canada and heard from
witnesses is that because the entire debate in Canada currently seems to be
centred on Kyoto, many people feel that if we achieve those goals, all our
problems will be solved. Even if every country in the world achieved its goals,
what you have said would still be true.
We must have a major education campaign to involve the general public in the
discussion about adaptation and climate change. If you agree with that
statement, what arm of government do you think should provide that education
across Canada? Do you see C-CIARN's role being enlarged to organize a major
education and communication strategy?
Mr. Lemmen: Your point is well taken. While there is increased
understanding of climate change among the general population, there are still
many limitations. Despite the fact that Kyoto is stated to be a small first step
in addressing climate change, the real implications, as presented on slide 3 and
in the quote taken from the Climate Change Plan for Canada, are not widely
The roles in education have to be very broad. C-CIARN is a good example and
does offer a tremendous opportunity because it is a partnership amongst a wide
number of players, including federal, provincial and territorial governments,
industry and universities. There is certainly an important role for many other
levels within the federal government. It is not a responsibility that will fall
to one department. It will have to be a coordinated message involving a wide
range of departments. Issues such as implications for transportation and
infrastructure are far beyond the science and natural resource departments.
Provinces and municipalities have key roles to play in education and raising
awareness is part of the national adaptation framework. Federal, provincial and
territorial governments have identified this as a priority for action.
Senator Gustafson: My concern is the human tragedy out there caused by
a number of things. Just this week, neighbours of mine told me of four young
farmers in the area who are leaving. The father of one of those farmers, also a
neighbour of mine, is 80 years old and is trying to run the farm himself. He
should not be doing that, and I will admit that he does not have to. However,
this is the situation we are finding out there.
For some reason or other, the rural parts of Canada do not believe that other
Canadians understand this and that it is serious. The situation is serious in
forestry as well.
We have a great country. We live in a cold climate. When you see what France
went through with temperatures of 40 degrees centigrade, you have to ask whether
we are ready to deal with the problem and what we will do about it.
By your own admission, and from what we heard in the committee, there is not
much that we can do, one way or the other, that will change it overnight. We
will have to adjust to the problems we are facing.
In the province of Saskatchewan, for instance, we have lost 10,000 farmers
since 1961. For a population of only 900,000, that is a big percentage. This
migration is taking its toll on rural development. In the opinion of many of us
who live in rural areas, this movement is occurring and no one cares. Maybe that
is an oversimplification, I do not know. I would like to hear from you about the
plans to make people aware and to start to address some of these problems.
Many things have happened — the drought, mad cow disease, low grain prices,
global warming and so on. This is probably one of the most important problems
that Canada faces.
Mr. Lemmen: Senator Gustafson has highlighted a very important point.
It is a challenge not only for researchers, but also in developing programs,
that regions are under stress from many factors. Certainly, I am very
sympathetic to the issues in prairie agriculture that you raised.
Besides being born and raised in Alberta, I spent seven years looking at how
climate has changed within the Palliser Triangle. In the past,
back-to-back-to-back droughts were not that unusual. The risk identified within
your report is very real. The impacts would affect many segments of Canadian
From the climate change perspective, these issues are clearly recognized.
This issue is a priority not only from a federal perspective, but also for the
provinces and territories. There is a recognition that whatever actions are
taken with respect to climate change must also consider the other types of
economic and sustainability issues such as have been described.
Mr. Miller: I would add to that by way of a specific example in
forestry. We are aware of the rural/urban tensions in terms of forest
development generally. The chair of the subcommittee of forest-based communities
of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities sits on our advisory board. He
regularly reminds us of the need to have discussions with communities.
Specifically in the context of the national network on vulnerability that we
are putting in place, our real focus when talking about the forest and the
forest industry is on the communities. We have been trying to determine how we
can communicate effectively. One mechanism we will try to use, if they will let
us, is that subcommittee of forest-based communities.
We are aware of the situation and trying to come to grips with it, because it
is critical that we understand the needs if we are to launch a major research
Senator Gustafson: The input costs in agriculture are so high that in
many cases, banks are moving away from supporting the farmers because they are
poor risks. Something that really concerns me, while it is currently in the
early stages, is that large companies like Monsanto and Cargill are coming up
with programs whereby they will put up the seed and sign a contract with the
farmer, so he becomes a slave on his own farm, a serf. This situation is
starting to snowball.
I was surprised when my neighbour told me that he signed a contract to get
the seed. He cannot seed that next year. He must pay a 15 per cent margin on
whatever profit he makes to the company and he is under certain restrictions.
These companies will run the farms and they do not even have to own them.
Some research should be done on this subject, because these issues are starting
to snowball. As a result of the drought and so on, farmers find themselves in
financial trouble. Therefore, to try to keep the farm going, they are moving in
this direction. The other side, and I may be analyzing it wrongly, is that
because of the American subsidy, their farmers do not have to do that. They get
the dollars to be able to operate through subsidies. Most of these are big
American companies and they are basically taking over our industry.
Now, some may say that is the only way it can go. Someone will farm that land
and someone will produce food. How that will be done and how it will affect our
country require some research and study.
The Deputy Chairman: Does any one wish to tackle that?
Mr. Miller: We need time to understand the social and economic
consequences of climate change. That is one of the main features of this network
that we are putting together. I agree that we need to understand the
consequences for communities and individuals. In the CFS we have some dialogue
with the provinces and with academia. Much of this effort is in Saskatchewan,
where there is much interest in and understanding of agro-forestry and the
opportunities. That could actually help.
Mr. Lemmen: I agree that the kind of research described in the
examples may not have been related to climate change. The kind of research that
we would support directly would include how individual farmers and operators
make decisions and the factors that influence them. The outcome of that research
will be applicable to the broader range of issues that you described.
Senator Fairbairn: I could say that I was worn out by climate this
summer in the southwest corner of Alberta, which was quite an interesting place
to be. In May we had lush grass, rain and everything was fine — this was to be
the comeback summer. Then we had an occurrence of mad cow disease, not in our
area but farther north. However, the cattle industry in general suffered. It had
an effect on the country, on our cattle industry and on all of the industries
that support it, such as the packers, the feedlots and the truckers.
In the sense of what we are discussing now, one thing did happen. I have
often said to the farmers that democracy is great and it is always right, but
sometimes it can be a little difficult. I was the only voice present from the
federal government in our area. It was interesting to see that the farmers,
after the first shock wore off, did not really understand the issue of the
disease. Therefore, the only way to get the message out to them was to go to the
rallies, the auction barns and anywhere else the farmers were. At my request,
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada provided me with the benefit of a
representative from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which was leading the
charge magnificently in the early days of that issue. It was amazing how that
one gentleman changed things with his presence and his responses to the farmers'
questions, such as, ``What is BSE?'' It did a great deal to calm the anxiety of
farmers who did not know what would become of their lives. It was good for the
farmers to receive the information they needed from someone who clearly knew
what he was talking about and who was prepared to spend any number of hours
answering their questions.
That was like a microcosm of what we are trying to do here. They did that on
the ground during the crisis and they also opened up the phone lines for daily
briefings to members of Parliament, the media and all of the groups in the
industry so that everyone, step by step, was informed. It made it so much easier
on all concerned to be informed. The farmers felt better knowing that someone
was doing something and letting them know about it. That sense of understanding
and being connected was an important reason why this issue, bad as it was, did
not turn into mass hysteria right from the beginning.
When you are looking for an example, consider this recent issue. It was dealt
with in the right way, although not perfectly. Normally, the information is much
more scattered and many are left uninformed and, therefore, upset and afraid.
Throughout our hearings we have heard that glaciers are disappearing. Just
after mad cow disease surfaced, fires broke out in the Crowsnest Pass. Had that
taken a different direction it would have destroyed lives and infrastructure. It
also burned heavily in Glacier National Park, Montana. They could have been
witnesses at our committee. It was an awakening to realize how much less they
could rely on natural water sources to take care of the fires. A communication
link explained why some things were being done and not others.
The fires were handled quite differently in the various areas that received
so much publicity. I was rather proud of the Crowsnest Pass and its tiny towns,
each with its own fire brigade. You spoke about adaptation and FireSmart
Landscapes. The people up there had been doing some of that already, not knowing
that they would have a fire, but because they live in an area where fire was
likely. They engaged in training people in something called ``urban
infrastructure protection,'' which equated with the FireSmart Landscape idea.
The recommended equipment included hoses for the roofs and walls of the houses.
Canadian Tire sent a diesel truckload of hoses up to the Crowsnest Pass at no
charge. I went back up at the end of the fire through the Lost Creek area and
saw the devastation of what was once a forest and is now only black twigs. The
houses in the area were saved because of the many hoses put to use to douse them
No people, houses, commercial buildings or animals were lost. Two outhouses,
no longer in use, were lost. It was very swift. That would be something to
examine if this is to be the order of the day.
After all that, the drought returned along with a plague of grasshoppers of
biblical proportions, after which we were back to square one.
The other thing that took place just before I came back about a week or so
ago — and I am not sure what the federal presence was, although I know the
ministers were not there — was the first ever international wind power
conference in Fort MacLeod. It also speaks to the kind of thing that we are
engaged in with this climate change. Along with all of the things that are going
wrong — or are not going the way we would like them to — it was a reminder
of how fast the industry has grown in four years; we are taking an aspect of the
climate and using it for good things. Interestingly enough, many of the
companies that are involved in the other aspects of climate that are not seen to
be so beneficial are now heavily involved in wind power. This was something that
was both international and very provincial; and I was disappointed, because I
was not sure there was enough of a federal presence there to let people know
that we were interested and wanted to help with this.
Those are observations about one small part of Canada, and it was certainly
the same thing in many other parts. There were moments of light in there that I
mention in terms of the possibility of getting in there and looking a little
further at how some of these things were handled, because they could be built
Mr. Lemmen: Perhaps I can start off. You made a number of extremely
important points that will help us as Canadians at all levels to start to
address some of the challenges of climate change.
You made a good point that adaptation is not, or certainly does not have to
be, rocket science. It is a matter of identifying the risks and making sure you
take appropriate actions to minimize them. The climate will not change radically
overnight. If communities are well adapted to the variability that they are
experiencing today, they are probably in reasonably good shape to face the
challenges of the future. Yes, there will be additional adaptation required.
The other key point that I took from what you said is about expertise. All
too often, we look for that expertise from PhDs. They have an expertise to bring
to that issue, but expertise also lies with the stakeholder — in this case,
One key of our funding program that we have tried to emphasize is that when
people submit a proposal to us, they should show at the very first stage of the
research that the people who will use the information are involved. If it is
dealing with agriculture, are the local farm associations involved, and will
they be meaningfully involved throughout?
That is a lesson that we have learned, and the research community has
accepted that this is important — that their expertise is really only valuable
when it works in tandem with the expertise that you are describing.
Mr. Miller: If I could add a few points, National Research Canada is
aware that we could improve our communications with the public, in particular,
and clients as well — both generally and on the point of climate change — to
help people understand what it is and what it might mean. The department is
currently trying to come up with more effective ways of communicating what all
of the scientific research may mean, what climate change may mean to
communities, industries, et cetera.
We are aware of the need to improve communications, and there is a fair
amount of discussion inside the department about how to go about that.
I would back up Mr. Lemmen's point, that a lot of adaptation is not rocket
science. Certainly forest communities are fully aware that fire is a real risk.
They typically have made some preparations, but we think we can help them do
more. That is what FireSmart is all about. We will also be doing a major
analysis of how we approach forest fire management in Canada. It will be focused
on how communities prepare themselves, ranging from making sure that the
infrastructure is in place so we can fight fires when they break out, to water
bombers and that sort of capability. That is largely a provincial jurisdiction,
but we do help them coordinate nationally through the Interagency Forest Fire
Centre in Winnipeg.
In this analysis, we will get into discussions with municipalities about
zoning, and some different approaches to preparing for and managing fires in the
future, so we are not just dealing with the aftermath.
Senator Fairbairn: As a final observation on that, I want to mention
one thing that occurred when I went up to the Crowsnest Pass. I stayed away from
the fire when it was burning; they did not need another body to look after when
they were in crisis. However, I went back at the end and went through things
with them. I spoke to the mayor of the area and the volunteer team they had —
which was extraordinary in the way it was organized — and said that instead of
saying that it is over and we have to get on with life, would they please
document what they did? Would they write the story, piece by piece? No piece is
unimportant, because it worked for them; and had some of the same things been
done in other areas, there might have been a way to prevent some of the problems
at the very beginning.
He told me that they would do that, so he would be a person to talk to.
Senator LaPierre: I did not know anything about this. I think I am as
tired of hearing about climate change as I am about same-sex marriage. Both bore
me to tears. However, there are teachers and prophets among my colleagues. When
I first came to this committee to replace Senator Wiebe, I had asked to be
transferred from some other place in order to learn about something with which I
was not familiar. Led by my friend here across the way, who talks to me all the
time about the good book, I began to understand the great tragedy that these
I want to make you understand what I understand. The word ``adaptation''
frightens me. It annoys me. It enrages me, because it seems to be a cop-out
word. Listen people, you have done it; there is absolutely nothing you can do
about it. It is bound to get worse, so you had better adapt. Continue your life,
continue to abuse the resources and all the rest of it and just adapt. Adapt to
it through various kinds of mechanisms that will not change the situation but
will cause you to become sicker and die earlier.
Is that a crazy idea? You do not need to look so scared. Psychiatrists will
not come in.
Mr. Lemmen: I think I understand where you are coming from. Part of
the problem with the discussions we have is that we tend to look at small pieces
of the problem and small parts of the solution. If climate change is the issue,
adaptation is not the preferred route. If we could prevent climate change from
happening, at least the human element of it, we would do everything we can.
Hopefully, we are doing what we can through mitigation. Certainly, as your
report documents, the vast majority of our investments to date have been in
trying to attack that root cause.
Unfortunately — and Mr. Hengeveld will be the expert in the next
presentation — the climate system does not turn over quickly. Adaptation is a
necessary evil, if you wish. It is simply acceptance of the fact that no matter
what actions we take, and no matter how effective they are, we cannot stop
climate change from happening entirely. Therefore, as the climate changes, we
will have to adjust our activities.
I can understand the frustration, but certainly adaptation is viewed as a
necessary complement when one is trying to address climate change.
Mr. Miller: There are some doom and gloom predictions from some
quarters about climate change. I do not share them. When it comes to the Kyoto
Protocol and trying to come up with mitigation measures, which is also part of
the equation, we are trying to find ways of preventing human influences on the
climate. I do not think it is necessarily as dramatic as it sometimes comes out
in some of the discussions.
Just by way of example, adaptation can be at a fairly modest level. If the
forests change composition, if you get a different species mix because the
climate is changing, that will impact on how pulp and saw mills operate. If you
know things like that are likely to happen, you can plan in advance, and it will
help maintain what is there as opposed to leading to some more drastic change.
Senator LaPierre: Is not the purpose of the exercise in the presence
of this calamity, of this danger, to change the consciousness of human beings? I
know that it is not the responsibility of the department or the federal
government to do that. Maybe it is the responsibility of Senator Gustafson's
good book. However, that is another matter that will have to be dealt with. I do
not see anyone trying to change that. That leads me to my second question.
There is the great urban/rural divide. We saw that and we felt it in the
rural communities that we visited. We felt the sadness and despair. I remember a
man in Kelowna whose said his children were telling him, ``Dad, let's get out of
here, because it is not working and nothing will work.'' The man was practically
in tears, telling us that his father and his grandfather had farmed there, and
he may have to abandon it.
In Ottawa, Toronto, Kanata, Montreal and elsewhere, they say, ``What are you
talking about? The weather gets a little hotter. It gets a little colder. Winter
comes. Winter goes. Fall does not exist, and spring lasts a day. It has been
like this for a long time. We will always have potatoes, and you will grow them
in hothouses. At the end, if you do not have any more, you can give out pills
like those given to astronauts, and I will eat forever.''
Eighty-five per cent of us live in rural areas. How do we arrange ourselves
so that this divide, with the despair and the great creativity of Saskatchewan,
Alberta, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, rural Quebec and all the rest of it, is
really present in the city, so that the people will join hands in the process of
living another kind of existence? Is that possible?
Mr. Miller: We hope so, because we certainly hear about that great
divide, not just in the context of climate change but generally when it comes to
forest management and forest resource use in Canada. We hear both sides of the
argument regularly, and we are trying to come to grips with how we knit those
two together so people understand.
Senator LaPierre: Do you have programs to do that? Do you have
communication instruments to do that?
Mr. Miller: Not presently.
Senator LaPierre: Why not? This is not new. You have been at this for
10 years, if not more. Is it a lack of resources? It is lack of political will
on the part of your masters? I am not blaming you. I will blame Dhaliwal when I
see him tomorrow. He is probably in India. Why is there not this great
communication program that we have heard about the need for since the beginning
of our hearings?
I do not care about the adults. They created this mess, and they can live
with it. I do care about my children, my grandchildren and their grandchildren.
Therefore, I think that you have to capture the conscience of the young. That is
your responsibility. It is government's responsibility. The young have to become
aware of this. We have to find mechanisms whereby we can communicate with them,
through the Web and through games of various kinds. I can give you a plethora of
means and instruments whereby the young can be reached. The end result will be
that the adaptation will not be in the negative sense that I see it, but that
the young will understand.
I can give you the example of cultural diversity. The adults constantly talk
about the value of cultural diversity, but they continue to talk about the
drunken Indian. However, I go to schools almost every week, and I see that the
young are quite aware of what cultural diversity means, and they cherish and
Therefore, I would hope that we develop a recommendation to the effect that
we have to centre our communication and our education system on the young people
of Canada. Would that be a sensible thing to do?
Mr. Miller: Certainly. In fact we have certain activities that are
very focused on that. We are providing information on the department's
activities, including on climate change, to SchoolNet, which is a means of
getting information out to the public schools.
Another example is the Canadian Forestry Association, which again is largely
an education-based organization — it has developed a teaching kit on climate
change, biodiversity — and a few others. We understand the benefits of having
communication with the young. In fact, it needs to be a priority.
Senator LaPierre: I am the chairman of Canadian Culture Online, which
gives out millions of dollars every year to various bodies for multimedia. A
considerable number of companies in multimedia do the most creative work for
young people. Should you want some information about them, I could easily
provide that, if you do not have it already.
The Deputy Chairman: Going back to my question to you, Mr. Lemmen, you
mentioned that all the various departments would be doing outreach work in terms
of education and so on. Within these different departments, there not only has
to be action, but research programs and policy. I also suggest there must be
policy reviews in the event that existing policies may be hurting the
Saskatchewan farmer, as Senator Gustafson has mentioned, rather than helping. If
we have all of these different departments involved, how would you suggest that
we coordinate this?
Mr. Lemmen: I will first say that the two points are related. I do not
say that outreach has to be undertaken by individual departments, but individual
departments need to contribute to it in a coordinated manner, which I think
takes us to your second question, and which is the point that we are at today.
We do have an impacts and adaptation committee comprised of senior officials
from at least 12 or 13 departments.
One of the tasks of this committee is to examine existing policies from the
point of viewpoint of whether they are potentially obstructive of adaptation or
do we expect climate to change in some way in the future that will make that
policy no longer relevant or appropriate?
The appropriate vehicle that we see, and that exists at present, is very much
a collaborative, interdepartmental process. At this stage, we do not think that
this is an issue that belongs in any one location.
Senator Gustafson: My question is supplementary to the senator's
statement about the young. Our young farmers have given up. The average age of
farmers in Saskatchewan is 60 to 65 years of age. I hear from numbers of senior
farmers who are saying that they have spent their life savings trying to keep
one of their sons or daughters on the farm. I do not know of anything that will
encourage these younger farmers. Until they realize they can make a good and
honest living at it, nothing will encourage them. It will be an ongoing problem.
The senator is quite correct. We are not reaching our young farmers or our
young people in general at all, either in terms of the environmental impact or
the economic impact. It is a very serious situation.
Mr. Lemmen: I certainly agree that it is a challenge that has to be
addressed. I think what Senator LaPierre, who is certainly infinitely more
knowledgeable on this subject, is saying is that we are talking about a
fundamental change in the way in which we view the world.
At some stage, the old dogs and new tricks adage does hold true. You are
absolutely correct; the answer lies with the young. I am not expert enough to
speak to what programs exist. I will say that if you are passing through
Sudbury, I strongly encourage you to stop at Science North. They have a
spectacular display there, including an interactive climate change show that
features animated sheep and the voice of Rick Mercer. That is quite possibly the
best documentation on climate change that I have seen.
It is a small step, perhaps, but it will have an impact on all Canadians,
certainly the young.
Senator Tkachuk: I am not apocalyptic about climate change. I know
there are problems in the agricultural area, most of which have nothing to do
with climate change. If we are focused on where the problems are, we should deal
with prairie agriculture. If farmers were getting a decent price for their
product and there were no subsidy programs in Europe and the United States, we
would not be hearing any of these gloom and doom stories. I can guarantee you
that. They do not come from the Okanagan Valley or from the dairy farms of
Quebec or Ontario.
These are price problems. I do not want us to focus on the wrong thing here.
We have very serious issues with subsidies. We have to solve that problem or we
will lose our farmers in the Prairies. Farmers have been dealing with climate
change since I was a kid. I have been hearing about this since I was seven years
old. I have been on a farm or in a small town dealing with farmers all my life.
You hear about this so often that after a while you say, ``Just a minute here.''
I wanted to throw that out, not to debate the point so much as to show that
there is another viewpoint and so that we do not get sidetracked.
Mr. Lemmen: I agree wholeheartedly. One of the points Senator
Gustafson was making is that climate change is only one of many stressors acting
on these areas. In many cases, it is probably not the dominant one. The examples
you give are certainly real.
On the other hand, there are real climate-related issues. The years 2000 and
2001 were bad ones for much of the Prairies. If there are actions we can take to
help producers there, then those will clearly be beneficial all round.
The Deputy Chairman: Mr. Lemmen and Mr. Miller, thank you for
appearing before our committee tonight. As you can see from my having to cut
Senator LaPierre short on one of his questions, you generated a great deal of
interest among us. We want to thank you for coming back again.
Honourable senators, I will call on our next witness, Mr. Hengeveld from
Environment Canada. We will begin to write our report on Thursday, and he will
be our last witness.
As you know, we have issued an interim report, a copy of which we sent to
your department and to you. The purpose of this meeting tonight is to hear your
reaction to that report. Also, if your department has any recommendations to
propose to our committee, we would be willing to look at them.
Welcome to our committee.
Mr. Henry Hengeveld, Chief Science Advisor, Climate Change, Environment
Canada: Thank you for inviting me back. I was afraid that I had not made
myself clear in my first appearance before this committee, but if I could be of
further assistance, I would be delighted.
I was asked to talk a little about recent weather events and to put them into
the context of natural variability and, perhaps, climate change.
Weather events happen every day and occur in different parts of the world. I
could speak for hours on that subject, but I have a few examples to put before
you of issues that have been well discussed in the media this past summer and
that many of us are familiar with, just to illustrate things that have been
happening over the last number of months. I will put them into the context of
the last year or two, and then I will answer questions.
I thought the interim report was very good. I would be happy to help you in
any other way tonight with your work.
Just to put the discussion of recent events into context, I have included in
the package before you a map of the pattern of precipitation anomalies across
Canada this summer. In some respects, it was really just a question of being
very dry in the Southwest, very wet in the Northwest Territories, but pretty
normal elsewhere. Averages, of course, hide a lot of facts, because extreme
events can average out so that the mean looks pretty good.
This map shows that Southern B.C. and the very southern part of the Prairie
provinces were indeed quite dry, despite the fact that the Southern Prairies had
had a good start in the springtime. That is important to keep in mind in the
context of some of the events of this summer. Consequently, the very wet
conditions in the Northwest Territories prevented the forest fires that normally
transpire in the summertime in that region. Therefore, despite all the fires
that took place this summer, the total area burned in Canada this year is well
below the average of the past 10 years.
Looking at the next map, the temperature pattern shows it was not an unusual
summer in the sense that the temperature was quite close to normal. It was 0.9
degrees above the mean. Again, the warm spots occurred in almost the same places
where dry conditions occurred. In Southern B.C. there were both dry and warm
conditions and, of course, the two together will enhance the loss of moisture
from the soil.
Beyond that, the summer was pretty normal for much of Canada. Certainly in
Eastern Canada we had as normal a summer as one would expect.
Looking at the next picture, we see the extreme events region by region
across Canada, highlighting a few in different spots. The news in Southern B.C.
was the persistent drought coinciding with warm temperatures. I have included a
map that shows the drought conditions, or the moisture surplus or deficit, for
the last three years. It is not just the severe drought of this summer that was
important; it was the building of this drought on a sequence of seasons. You can
see that for both the coastal area of B.C. and the southern mountains, there
were only two or three seasons in the last 15 that had above normal
precipitation, and about 12 that had below normal. It was this summer's drought
building upon a sequence of other dry seasons that resulted in the tremendous
soil deficit, the very dry soils in the forests and so on.
Much of the media attention was focused on the fires, and yet I think in
Southern B.C., in particular, the economic and social impacts of this dry
condition were felt in many different aspects of the socio-economic sectors. It
is important to note that the increase in the mountain pine beetle infestation
was a factor as well, as it causes die-back that increases the supply of dead
matter in the forest, which in turn is linked to the succession of warm winters
we have had that have failed to kill off the mountain pine beetle. Again, we see
a climate link there in the past infestation that contributed to wildfires.
We have a number of factors coming together at the same place and time to
cause this fairly unusual set of circumstances.
Low reservoirs were also a major problem in B.C., to the point where
electricity had to be imported from outside the province as opposed to normally
exporting it. The impact on fisheries, because of stream flows and other
factors, and on tourism meant that this summer, all of B.C. experienced fairly
strong impacts of the unusual weather conditions.
If we move on to the Prairies, again we see the combination of warm
temperatures and dry conditions. There was respite this spring, and it caused a
sigh of relief after the many seasons of dry conditions, but then it turned dry
to the point where, in the Southern Prairies, we found that the average summer
condition was well below normal. The spring moisture did help many regions to
have somewhat less serious summer conditions than others, but it was not the end
of the drought period. Add to that the warmer than normal temperatures, and it
suggests that again the stress on water resources is a major issue.
The issue in the Prairies was depleted sloughs and reservoirs, so that water
resources available for irrigation and other purposes are disappearing.
Normally, in a dry period the cows can go to sloughs to get water, but if the
sloughs are dry, where do they go? It is important to remember that drought,
grasshoppers and wildfires happen from time to time. Later on, I hope to say a
few things about natural variability versus what we might explain by climate
change, but it has been a bad summer following a number of bad summers for that
Moving to the eastern parts of the country, I have lumped them together in
one slide, not to suggest they are less important, but the stories were perhaps
a little less dramatic in terms of the economic impacts on the provinces.
For Ontario, the story seems to be one of vacillation between wet summers and
dry summers, to the point where farmers are sometimes saying, ``We do not know
what to plant any more in the spring, because one year it is too wet and the
next year it is too dry.'' The sense of variability has increased, and that is a
problem as well. It is not always a systematic shift in precipitation one way or
another. If it becomes more variable, it is a problem.
Isabel made a bit of a whimper as it came through. I think we had a
thunderstorm two days later that produced more rain than Isobel. It was not a
big splash, but it was unusual in the sense that very few hurricanes penetrate
that far into the interior of the continent. That was something of a news story,
but again, not necessarily that unusual in terms of what has happened in the
past. I think we all remember Hazel doing the same thing with far greater
In the Eastern Townships of Quebec, heavy flooding had some significant
effects. New Brunswick had a fairly major ice storm in February that did more
damage than the 1998 ice storm in terms of hydro loss. It was not necessarily
unprecedented, but perhaps we have become a little more vulnerable to such
storms. Finally, there was severe flooding in Nova Scotia in the spring. We have
also seen a great deal of evidence of damage from Hurricane Juan, which was an
unusually strong hurricane. Nova Scotia usually gets one or two hurricanes, or
remnants thereof, each year in the normal course of weather events.
Again, it is weather, and that is always around us. However, unusual weather
makes us sit up because it exceeds the ability of our infrastructure to deal
with it and then it becomes a news story. Typically, when one of these events
occurs, the media report on it for the first day or two. When the event passes
on, they call our office and ask where climate change is. Needless to say, we
have to address the question of linkage.
Before I do that, I want to mention what is happening in the High Arctic. The
summer news story was about the break-up of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf on Ellesmere
Island. I found that report to be a little melodramatic because 90 per cent of
the shelf broke away 50 years ago and no one talked about it then. I used to
work in ice reconnaissance and I spent a great deal of time flying up there in
the 1970s. At that time, a fragment of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf called T3 was
floating in the Arctic Ocean and the Americans and Russians were using it as a
research camp. It is clear that progressive melting at the top and the bottom of
the ice shelf is breaking it up. It is an indication of a systematic, long- term
change consistent with what is happening in the Antarctic Peninsula. The news
story there was the discovery of unique microbial activity in the lakes behind
the ice shelf that we never knew existed. When an ice shelf breaks, something
irreversible happens to some unique microbial forms. That activity brings you
into the area of biodiversity as well. The important aspect is that we are
losing some species and no one quite knows what the effect will be on the
I will speak to the heat wave that occurred in France this past summer, or in
Europe generally. It was a combined heat wave and dry period because of a
persistent flow of Saharan winds northward into the region that dumbfounded
everyone. There were indications that this was unprecedented in the last,
perhaps 500 years. It was startling to the Europeans that this followed on the
heels of the previous summer's record floods. There is a sense of not knowing
what may be coming. Either we are being flooded out or completely dried out. The
latest estimate of related deaths in France was 15,000.
That indicates a major social problem in that country in how they deal with
their elderly population. It also reminds us that developed countries can
sometimes experience major human impacts of climate events.
To put that into a global context, I have provide you with two graphs of
differing time periods. The top graph is from 1880 to 2003. It shows that there
has been a rather noisy but slow progression upward, to the point where the
latest results suggest that the earth is 0.7 degrees warmer than a century ago.
The first seven months of 2003 show that it will be the third warmest year of
this record, following 1998 and 2002.
Almost two months ago, a couple of researchers published a paper in one of
the leading American journals. They tried to reconstruct the climate for the
Northern Hemisphere using proxy-dated — similar to tree rings — ice cores
and other sources for 23 different locations across the hemisphere. They believe
that the reconstruction accurately represents the whole hemisphere. Their
research shows that the 20th century is the warmest of the last 2,000 years and
that the 1990s is the warmest decade of the last 2,000 years. That tells us that
something unusual is happening. By itself, it does not prove that humans caused
it, but it does indicate that it is very difficult to explain on the basis of
natural variability in anything we have seen in the last 2,000 years.
I will briefly speak to natural variability versus climate change in the
issue of extreme weather events. First, the climate system is noisy. Climate is
simply average weather, and if we took today's weather and yesterday's weather
and tomorrow's weather and so on and averaged them out, we could come up with a
climate of the region. However, from one day to the next, what we see is noisy.
For example, if it is 21 degrees tomorrow and it was 13 degrees last year, it
would not mean that winter would not come. That is simply the noisiness of the
climate system in terms of the longer- term condition. When we have an extreme
event, such as the drought in Western Canada, which we have had before, we have
to deal with it on a probability or return-period basis. It is difficult to say
that it has never happened before or that we should not be seeing it.
The data we have for further back than 50 years is sparse and so we do not
know too much about what happened before 1948 in many areas. For some areas of
the country, we have 100 years of records and for other parts we have only 50
The third point is that most extreme events, as I mentioned before, are a
combination of a number of factors coming together at the same place and time.
We never record it that way in our climate data. Rather, we do it one factor at
a time. When we do analysis of climate data, we will also do an analysis of
temperature, precipitation and wind, but we never look at them in combination.
This area needs a great deal of research. We need to understand complex, extreme
events far better in order to develop extreme event indices that we could track
over time. It is hard work and would need much effort, but it would be worth
spending more time on.
The final point is that the climate models we use to look into the effects of
climate change are still at a fairly coarse resolution. Very few of them can
simulate a hurricane or a thunderstorm because they have resolutions of 200 to
300 kilometres. We must use other techniques to try to relate the results of the
climate models to these events. There is much work to be done. There is a
workshop in Victoria next week on trying to develop a better understanding of
how to produce severe event scenarios under climate change to help the community
impacted to understand that.
There are clear problems in separating this out from the noise of natural
variability. There are certain aspects that lead us to sit up and take note.
First, some of the aspects of extremes are virtually unprecedented. This
suggests that something is happening that we cannot explain on the basis of
natural variability, even when we look at a 2,000-year time frame. Second, most
of the extremes we are seeing are consistent with the direction that the climate
models are telling us the system will go. The climate models say that we will
likely have a higher probability of some events and a lower frequency of others.
That is what we are seeing. There is a sense that this is consistent with what
the models predict should happen.
Most important, some of what we are seeing is symptomatic of what we may see
more frequently in the future. It is only one factor in the social and economic
impacts. I think you mentioned already other dominating factors in some areas
that are more significant than anything that climate could throw at us.
I also come from a farming community, and most of the farmers say, ``Get
those trade people in order, do not tell me about climate change.'' I cannot do
anything about the trade people; but I do think we need to be cognizant that for
future generations, the climate will go in a systematic direction, and the best
way of preparing for that is to learn to live with current variability better.
I will stop now and entertain any questions you may have.
The Deputy Chairman: I looked at your last slide, and it clearly
indicates that changes in temperature are very unevenly distributed. They appear
to be, according to your map, in the northern part of all the countries. Canada
has an area that has certainly been dryer and so does Northern Russia. Is there
any explanation for that?
Mr. Hengeveld: Are you referring to the temperature map — the very
The Deputy Chairman: Yes.
Mr. Hengeveld: The change in climate is a composite of natural
variability and of a systematic trend underlying that. First, in the natural
variability, we have year-to-year fluctuations. We are familiar with El Niño
and La Niña, which, within a decade, can cause a shift in a climate system that
is more prone to one kind of condition than another. For example, during La
Niña we tend to get more hurricanes in the North Atlantic than during an El
However, there is also now evidence that there are multi-decadal oscillations
— that over periods of 30 to 50 years, the climate system ``sloshes'' back and
forth. One of those is the North Atlantic oscillation and another is the Arctic
oscillation. I included the pattern you see there partly to show that natural
variability is superimposed upon the systematic trend, so that some parts of the
hemisphere will warm much more than the average and some parts will cool. When
our models simulate future climate, they show different things. It pulsates from
one decade to the next, but gradually there is a systematic trend.
It is a little like watching the ocean waves on the shoreline while the tide
is coming in. Each wave comes a little farther forward. A team of scientists in
Oregon did a study that suggests that we have had a significant shift in the
Arctic oscillation, which has caused an amplified warming over Northwestern
Canada and Siberia and a cooling over the North Atlantic and the North Pacific.
We could quite conceivably picture that reversing within the next 20 years.
However, when you remove this oscillation, you still see a systematic warming
underlying that. They have done that in their study; they have removed the
oscillation pattern and what they see is this residual warming that takes place
Over 30, 40 years, the warming that we expect due to human activity will be
great enough that it will dominate the natural variability, although that
pulsation still goes on. There is a possibility — and some models suggest that
— that it will show as a preferred pattern of climate change. We may actually
see a domination of a certain mode of that oscillation. That is starting to get
a little more complex, but it is a reminder that in understanding the
decade-to-decade changes in climate, we have a lot to learn. We can expect a
gradual movement upward, but we do not know which of the waves in the ocean will
hit us next.
The Deputy Chairman: You also mentioned in your comments that the
scientific community realizes that climate change is more rapid than in the
past, but has not done enough research yet to determine the basic cause. We have
a tendency to believe it is caused by activity here on earth, by humans or
otherwise. What kind of work has been done on changes that may be taking place
in the sun, for example, that may cause some of this? Is this something that is
Mr. Hengeveld: There is a lot of research going on in this whole area.
It is called the ``detection and attribution analysis.'' There is a large
community of people looking at how climate is changing and how unusual the
climate is, and then tries to, both through statistical analysis and modelling,
attribute those changes to specific causes.
The story is quite different for the global, hemispheric and even continental
scale of the changes versus the local scale changes and extreme events. When it
comes to extreme events, we are still very much within the noise of the system
— and that signal that is evidence of the human contribution is not clear.
That is true as well for the regional change because of this natural oscillation
that I mentioned before.
On the hemispheric scale, the oscillations average out. All of a sudden, we
have a less noisy picture with which to compare. When I showed the curve of the
last 100 years, there was a warming period between 1920 and 1940; there was an
interruption and then another, fairly rapid warming in the last 30 years. When
we look at the primary causal factors, which are solar variability and changes
in solar intensity, volcanic activity and human interference, that first period
seems to be a combination of all three. The only way we can simulate it properly
is if we put all three factors into the models. The solar forcing did increase
from 1900 to 1950; the volcanic eruptions decreased, which puts less of the dust
that cools the planet into the atmosphere, and then we had greenhouse gases.
None of those factors alone seemed to explain the trend, but the three together
The solar changes have been steady over the last 50 years. There is an
11-year sunspot cycle, but their average level has stayed fairly steady over the
last 50 years. Volcanic eruptions have increased again, particularly with El
Chichon and Pinatubo; and then we have had rising greenhouse gases. When we look
at the natural side of it, the volcanoes and the solar effect, we should have
had a cooling. Instead, we have had a fairly rapid warming. It was that
combination, plus the unprecedented nature of this in the last 1,000 years, that
led the international science community to conclude that most of the warming in
the last 50 years is likely due to human interference.
Senator LaPierre: Talking about the sun, do you think that Mars,
having come so close to the earth, may have had an effect on our climate this
summer and all these forest fires?
Mr. Hengeveld: I do not think so. The moon would have a greater
likelihood of affecting our climate than Mars. There are those who hypothesize
that there are harmonics of the lunar patterns that could have influenced the
earth in the past as well. There is some correlation, for example, between
precipitation patterns and the lunar cycle, but it is very tenuous. I am always
uneasy about these correlations, because they exist for a time and then they
break down; you sense some of it may have been just coincidence. However, Mars
would not have had a major influence.
Senator Gustafson: I found your presentation very good. Something
seems to happen when we have a series of drought years, like we did in the
1930s; and then in the 1940s we grew tremendous crops. I remember that from my
boyhood. In 1961, we had nothing. On our farm, we grew 1,300 bushels. In 1962,
we had the biggest crop we ever harvested. In 1985, I believe it was, we had
grasshoppers. In 1986, we grew a wonderful crop. I would like your comment on
this. It seems that the soil has a way of rejuvenating itself.
The other thing I have noticed is that certain kinds of weeds will grow. We
now have a problem with kochia. This kochia weed is coming up everywhere. Before
that, we had thistles. The thistles are now gone. It seems the earth has a way
of rejuvenating itself. Have you done studies on that?
Mr. Hengeveld: There have been a number of studies of diatoms and lake
sediments in the Southern Prairies that have tried to reconstruct the moisture
levels of the prairie region for the last 2,000 years. Those studies show that
over that time scale, there are clusters of periods when it was very dry and
clusters of periods when it was very wet. The 1930s were far from the worst.
Even without human interference in the climate change, we should be prepared
to deal with a severe drought period from time to time.
The danger is that a systematic shift in climate to which we are now adding
may simply enhance what would have naturally occurred anyway, but make it more
From my years growing up, I remember my dad always saying that we can deal
with one or two bad years in ten, but do not give us two or three in a row. That
is what the prairie farmers are saying now as well. It is the frequency as well
as the severity.
People have built up a certain resilience to what they are normally expected
to deal with. It is when they are dealt something that goes beyond expectation
that we have a problem.
We are saying that we need to shift those expectations in a certain
direction. One way to do that is by learning how to deal better with those bad
years right now.
There is a sense that when climate is in the process of change, it also
becomes more variable and erratic. We see that in most systems. Even when
society is in the process of change, we sometimes see adjustment problems until
a new equilibrium is reached. There is probably a more intuitive sense that we
are in for more variability for a while as we move to a new climate regime. This
is an uneasy reminder that we had better become more resilient and less
vulnerable to some of these extremes.
I also take Senator LaPierre's point that we should not focus too much on
adaptation in isolation. However, mitigation will help our children and
grandchildren adapt better. It will not help us in the next couple of years in
living with what is coming already, what we have already put into the system. We
have to do the two side by side. We have to mitigate, reduce emissions to
protect our grandchildren and we have to learn to adapt to deal with what is
Senator Gustafson: You obviously have an inside track with the
experts; what is coming next year?
Mr. Hengeveld: We are in between La Niña and El Niño. When there is
an El Niño in place, there is some confidence about a certain pattern of
weather in Canada. When there is a La Niña in place, the converse is true; but
in between, it is anyone's guess. You are now dealing with weather rather than
The Deputy Chairman: I would like to follow on from Senator LaPierre's
comments to the previous witness and the ones you heard in regard to adaptation.
Is it safe to say that according to what other witnesses have told us,
because of ice cores and all of the testing that has been done, that our planet
has undergone climate change constantly? At one time it was warm; at one time
there was an ice age. What the cores have shown us is that that change has been
gradual, so that humans and animals were able to adapt. That climate change has
been more rapid over the last 20 years and we may have more problems adapting.
Is that a good assessment?
Mr. Hengeveld: We are not too sure whether all species have been able
to adapt. Some theories about the disappearance of the dinosaurs suggest that
happened because of an abrupt climate change. There may have been cases in the
past where an abrupt event caused the disappearance of many species. There are
different theories, but it may be that an asteroid caused a cataclysmic change
in climate that had a huge impact.
In the more recent past, let us say the last 20,000 years, the transition
from the last glacial period to the current interglacial period saw a change in
temperature of about five degrees. We are not sure exactly, but it was somewhere
between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius, which is similar in magnitude to the upper
range of the projections for the next century. However, that change took place
over 5,000 years. Five degrees over 5,000 years is 0.1 degree per century. We
are not talking about a change of between 1.5 and 5 degrees in a century. The
rate is two orders of magnitude greater. Both ecosystems and society are tuned
to the existing climate. If the climate switches too quickly, we are all caught
unprepared. We are mismatched. That is where the danger lies. If it is a large
and rapid change, then some of the benefits we Canadians might want to enjoy get
swamped by some of the problems.
Senator Fairbairn: I would like to go back to something that was
discussed earlier. The information you have given us is helpful in that it makes
us think. You talk about not knowing whether we are going into an extreme period
as a result of what has been happening or whether it is just a little less
stable. Would this not be the time to have some very smart people who can speak
in language that citizens can understand get together to explain what is
We keep talking about communications. It is such a big word, a word that we
can sometimes hide behind. One of the things that I was trying to convey is that
as a result of all the disasters that were going on left, right and centre all
summer long in the area that I am from, one of the consistent things that was
happening was that there was better connection than there had been before.
People were kept informed and there were systems to let people know what was
happening so they would have a better grip on it themselves and, therefore,
could do more for themselves.
All too often, we hear of these things coming at us and we are told that it
will be a disaster; it will be catastrophic. Everyone gets into a state, but
there is no linear thinking about the fact that, okay, it is here. Here we are.
How can we best deal with it? Every year that we have these extreme events,
wherever they are in the country, is a pointed effort now being made within
government to try to transmit this information and the ``why,'' even if the
``why'' is imprecise, to the people who have to till the fields and raise the
I think the other thing that Senator LaPierre was saying is true, too. I do
not say, ``Forget about the adults.'' We cannot forget about them, because
whether we like it or not, they are running the show in terms of production.
However, perhaps we can put together packages of information to describe what is
happening and put it in the context of not just trying to understand it, but
trying to ascertain what we can do now. Young people know how to work with
computers a lot better than we do. The people who are less bound by tradition
than we are may not be the decision makers, but they are the ones who will
either benefit or be harmed. They are interested in this. They are not as afraid
of this issue as we are. There should be a — I hate to use the word —
holistic approach to communication.
It makes a lot of sense to not just keep it at a level where only a certain
number of people can try to understand, but to broaden it. These young farmers
are experiencing the results of what older people are doing. They may have a
better way of adapting, understanding it and also coming up themselves with some
intelligent ideas about how to deal with it. It is getting all this down to a
level where we give everyone the opportunity to participate in finding a
Mr. Hengeveld: On the issue of weather, we have developed a system
that works reasonably well. We have a very good communication system through
weather channels, radio and so on, for providing the public with weather
In a sense, we are now dealing with some things that are an extension of
weather. It is about long-term weather on a decadal time scale.
Senator Fairbairn: Does long-term weather on a decadal time scale
itself mean, in the end, that we actually are having climate change?
Mr. Hengeveld: We need to be able to tell them the direction in which
we think things are going. When we are talking about climate change and the way
it impacts on people, we usually mean how weather will change. ``Average
climate'' does not mean much to the average citizen. We need to learn more about
that. We can say a fair number of things with some conviction. For example, we
know that the frequency of extreme heat events will definitely increase. That is
a very robust conclusion.
We are quite sure that the frequency of dry spells in inner continental
regions in the northern hemisphere will rise. All the models seem to show that.
We do not know what hurricanes will do because the models do not agree. There
are certain areas about which we can speak confidently; others we cannot. There
is a lot of work going on to try to communicate that and pass it on to the
public, although I think it could benefit tremendously from a cross-government
strategic plan that involves provincial governments as well as federal
Provincial governments have the primary responsibility for education at the
primary and high school levels. For example, we work with the SEEDS program in
Alberta, which develops curriculum material for secondary schools. We have
recently put up a Web site on the science of climate change that tries, in
layman's terms, to provide a lot of the information that I have talked about
today. However, it is still somewhat piecemeal. I think we would benefit
tremendously from a more strategic approach to education.
The media are not a lot of help, although we should not discount them
entirely. I get into debates with journalists all the time about their tendency
to focus on controversy as opposed to information. They will come into a room
containing 100 scientists and 98 agree and 2 at each end disagree. The news
story is the 2 who disagree. The 98 who agree, they ignore. Do not rely on the
media; although they do keep that issue in front of us.
Senator Fairbairn: That happened certainly during the fires this
summer. Often, you were not hearing about everything that was happening. You
were hearing about the disaster aspect. In our area, it became a boring story
quickly in the past when there were no casualties and no houses burned down.
That did not mean the fire was out or getting any less dangerous. As other fires
made better copy and provided better visuals than serious situations, the
picture was being downplayed.
Mr. Hengeveld: It is an issue that took 100 years to develop. We will
not solve it overnight in terms of changing the culture. There is no group that
I enjoy talking to more than university audiences, students who will become
teachers and members of industry and are eager to learn and to listen. However,
I find engineers and senators are good listeners.
There is a real hunger amongst Canadians to know more about this and, with
the exception of a few skeptics centred in Calgary, most of them are willing to
listen. I should not focus just on Calgary. There are a few in other parts of
the country as well.
I spoke to a group in Calgary a month ago. At the end of the conversation,
someone stood up and said ``Sir, I do not know why you are here and why you were
invited because you did not tell us anything new, and I did not believe you
Education is the key in the long term, because it is our children and our
grandchildren who will be making much more difficult decisions than the one on
Kyoto. Kyoto is just the beginning.
Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of input into the curriculum. I have a
son who is a high school physics teacher. He says that as teachers, they do not
have time to look for this information. They have to use the provincial
curriculum because that uses all the time they have. It is like the farmer out
there dealing with prices as well as climate change. This education system also
has major problems.
Senator Fairbairn: The frustration in the education system is that,
regardless of what you want to teach, you are obliged to teach what a school
board says you must. We have a lot of education to do.
Senator LaPierre: This is more of an observation, and it is an
historical one. At some point in the evolution of humans, it seems that we came
to the conclusion that change does not take time, that there is an almost
immediate reaction to everything.
You are talking about the ice age. People and animals had thousands of years
to adapt to what was coming. Every day they felt it.
In our society, in which we have developed all these machines and so on, we
need to be instantly pleased and instantly annoyed. We seem to have a desire for
instant gratification or change. I suspect that there is nothing that you can do
about it. The climate will not do anything about it. If we knew more about how
long it takes for real change to take place, we would be able to adapt or
adjust. That is an observation. Everyone tells me, ``If you know about it, why
are the senators not doing something so that tomorrow morning it will stop?''
Only Senator Wiebe can do that.
Mr. Hengeveld: I think you are correct. Social inertia is a real
factor here. It sometimes takes society generations to make significant cultural
changes. That is one of the reasons why delaying action is risky.
The Deputy Chairman: Thank you for appearing before us once again. As
you can see from the tone of the questions, we were glad to have you here. You
did have the distinction of being the first witness at the beginning of this
study and you have been the last.
I encourage you all to be here bright and early with your thinking caps on at
8:30 a.m. on Thursday.