By Michael Asiffo
Climate change is a subject that has almost become customary to recognize but because it is perhaps not the most sensationalized of issues, it is not ever present in the media. Despite overwhelming statistical evidence to suggest otherwise, the causes of climate change are often disputed.
In this VIBE TALKS interview, Correspondent Michael Asiffo speaks with of Alain Bourque - Executive Director, Ouranos - a company dedicated to studying and adapting to climate change.
Michael: Asiffo: In regards to climate change, are there any misconceptions that the public should know about?
Alain: Well climate change is pretty well established. There is a huge group called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was mandated by the United Nations to check on the hypothesis that the climate was changing and after 25 years of synthesizing the science they came to the conclusion that the climate is changing. It is mostly attributable to greenhouse gasses and the emission of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and only that scientific fact is very often discussed. There seems to be somewhat of a confusion that the science is not on climate change. It is pretty strong but there is obviously lots of unknowns with respect to the regional type of climate change we may see in North America, in Europe, over the ocean etc. So, there still are some unknowns but the basic fact that the climate is changing is consensus.
Michael: What I think I am grasping here is that Climate change is pretty much proven, but there still are some unknowns to it to look out for?
Alain: There is still some unknowns but the important point here is that it is changing and we have to do something about it. One of the challenges is that it is a slow change. Well, it is somewhat slow that it is going to change over the next decade. It has already changed over the last three or four decades and it is going to continue to change at a very significant pace over the next decade. But then I use the word ‘decades’ and usually people do not really grasp all the type of changes that you can see in the environment within a decade because it seems to be too slow and it certainly too slow for the media.
Michael: I think that is one of the problems with climate change. It is one of those issues that creep up on you by being sneaky and slow. So how important is it to kind of take of the issue of climate change now?
Alain: It is actually very important. You know, it makes me think of many investors that tell you should put money aside for your retirement as quickly as possible because then you get the magic of interest rates. It will make a huge difference for the future and for the money you have available for your retirement. For climate change, it is exactly the same thing! You have to start reducing as quickly as possible because all of the incremental changes that you are making to your energy consumption pattern are going to accumulate and are going to limit the amount of climate change for the future to a level that is not going to be dangerous. So it is very important to start as quickly as possible.
Michael: I think the one thing it (climate change) comes down to is that there is greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, am I grasping that correctly?
Alain: So, the sunrays comes through the atmosphere, certain type of wavelengths are not filtered by the atmosphere so they hit earth and give us skin cancer on occasion but then the earth accumulates part of the energy and then it is retransmitted towards space; then the atmosphere acts as a greenhouse. So because of this influence, the average temperature of the planet, instead of being around -15 to -20 (degrees Celsius), is rather closer to 14 degrees Celsius because of those naturally occurring greenhouse gases. Now the problem is that we are picking oil and gas products from the earth that has been there for centuries and centuries and we burn them and then we re-emit greenhouse gasses. So we increase the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere and then we cause an increase in temperature and we are, I guess, destabilizing our climate by doing that.
Michael: It has not been a problem when we were not using oil and burning coal and things of that nature (to a rapid rate). It has been a problem ever since, let us say, industrial revolution?
Alain: Yes, exactly. And you mention that it was not a problem when we used coal, it is true that it was not a problem before the industrial revolution because we were not burning it in the amount that would create a significant change in the climate. Because of industrialization, because of the spectacular increase in the population over this planet; you know we have gone from 1 Billion to about 6.57 Billion in only the last few decades and we are expected to grow close to 10 Billion by the end of 2100, this has generated lots of emission through coal, through oil and gas and also through deforestation. This is because our forests were trapping some of gases back in the earth and because of deforestation, for example in Brazil, this has jointly contributed to see exponential growth in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Michael: I think we should get to that as well. The deforestation of the earth here: Is this almost like a 1A, 1B problem where the greenhouse gasses are building up and there is deforestation has been happening as well?
Alain: Yeah so the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change reports, you know there has been five reports over the last 25 years. They have been nicely documenting all the contributing factors around the increases of greenhouse gas emission and it is true that it is different factors. Oil and gas products burning is a contributing factor and it is probably the most important contributing factor but there is also deforestation and also other factors. Even the science, what is actually says is that right now our ecosystem and especially our oceans are actually serving us well because they are currently absorbing half of the greenhouse gases that are emitted by society. So we can say thanks to the ocean(s) for that; the unfortunate aspect of all of those scientific reports is to say that many of these oceans are getting more acidic. They have challenges to maintain this absorption of 50% so it does not look good for the future and again it highlights the need to reduce greenhouse gases and maybe the other portion of the equation is - to unfortunately start to learn to live with the portion of climate change that has already happened. For example, around the world we have warmed by about one degree Celsius, in Canada it is closer to two degrees Celsius that the warming has happened. So those exponential trends in greenhouse gasses are translating into also exponential growth in temperature in many regions of the world.
Michael: You mentioned something there about one degree and two degrees in Canada. To the regular person (listening), I do not think they understand how huge of a number raising the country’s temperature by two degrees is. Can you explain how huge of a number that is and why that is important?
Alain: It is very true. It is difficult to explain and I am not sure I have the best example. I think understanding that the temperature of the entire planet, the entire planet, was 14 degrees Celsius and that now today over the entire planet is simply a huge, huge number. I mean I could probably find a way to give the equivalent into atomic bombs and it would probably be trillions atomic bombs equivalent for this one degree Celsius warming. So it is very important and most importantly scientifically speaking, it is considered by scientists to be statistically significant. So this means that it is not luck, something is happening and it is link with changes we are generating in our atmosphere.
For more information on Climate Change visit Ouranos & Environment and Climate