Canada feels the measurable impact of climate change, and global warming, more than most other countries. Scientists from coast to coast, including our own federal government’s experts at Environment Canada have stated this publicly. EC's senior climatologist told CBC that if you look at the last seven decades, the effect on temperatures has been at least twice as noticeable in Canada as the rest of the world. This is based on government data, and is supported by researchers across the country. Yet many Canadians probably don’t realize this.
Ali Nazemi is a climate change expert at Concordia University who spoke to VICE exclusively and he agreed that parts of Canada are in fact being hit by warming temperatures at twice the global rate but many are unaware of it. The problem isn’t the lack of scientific evidence according to him it’s the deep dysfunction that crops up when the topic is discussed—it’s a political, polarizing issue—even though it should be cut-and-dried and based on data. “It has come to the level of belief. It’s not about facts and science anymore, it’s become like a religion. You believe in God or you don’t believe in God. You believe in climate change or you don’t believe in climate change,” said Nazemi.
Scientists and researchers aren’t the only ones warning about how climate change is affecting the Great White North. Canada’s insurance industry has joined the chorus, saying the new reality is more frequent, more extreme weather and that is going to make insurance costs higher for everyone. Meanwhile, Indigenous communities from the far north are seeing distortions in the sky—caused by atmospheric changes—that make it look like the moon and the stars aren’t where they’re supposed to be and the sun appear to be rising in the wrong spot.
In addition to this growing number of credible voices, there is a ton of data that supports these claims. That’s why researchers at Concordia University have spent half a year creating an app and a site called the Canadian Climate Data Accessibility Portal (CCDAP). Professor Nazemi, who is leading the project and has studied climate change for a decade, hopes it will help bridge what he calls “a huge mismatch” between public perception and what the scientific community has been saying over and over again—that climate change is at our doorstep.
Wading through all that data takes a lot of time, even for academics who know exactly what they’re looking for and how to get it. According to Nazemi, all the information collected by government agencies, going back to the 1800s, has been widely available but wasn’t easy to access or understand. Sure, researchers could navigate government sites and get what they need, but most non-academics had to deal with sites that aren’t user-friendly and usually give you hundreds, or thousands of files to go through. He says it wasn’t helping to get the message across to the general public.
Nazemi says getting the voting public to really understand this issue is important because warming temperatures don’t tell the whole story. In fact, many people don’t see the term “global warming” as a bad thing—after all, who doesn’t want more patio weather days? He says “this is very, very concerning because it’s not about warming climate. It’s about thawing permafrost, it’s about changing the freeze-and-thaw pattern, the growing season, the water availability that we have, it’s a change of the timing and the magnitude of the flooding, the droughts that we have in this country.”
Nazemi’s findings suggest we may not even have the complete picture yet because across the country, every decade since the mid 70s, there have been fewer active climate stations operating. At the peak in 1975, there were 3,000; today, there are 1,800. Granted, the stations that exist now are collecting a wider range of data—from precipitation, to snowfall, pressure, and humidity—but they’re fewer and farther in between. Especially in the far north where, arguably, they’re most needed. Up there, the distance between stations can stretch up to 1,000 kilometres.
The problem is a lack of funding, according to Nazemi. These stations cost a lot to run 24/7. “You need to spend a lot of time. You need to babysit them to make sure they are working properly,” he says. “Operators have to visit them regularly and with the continuation of cutting funds related to the environment and resources in this country, this is basically the first place where things are sacrificed.”
Political parties on the right tend to make these sacrifices in the name of saving taxpayers money, which only exacerbates the left-right divide over climate data.. “There’s a lot of mistrust between the public and politicians, in terms of taxes—people just don’t want to hear the fact that they need to pay some more money. The climate change discussion to me is not a scientific-driven discussion, it’s a politically driven-discussion.”
Nazemi says there’s a level of cowardice involved when politicians are unwilling to share their plans to deal with climate change at the federal level. Although the issue directly affects some regions more than others, the consequences are felt across the country. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has been called upon repeatedly to unveil his climate change plan but has yet to do so.
Although Nazemi doesn’t refer to Scheer by name, he cites politicians at all levels of government who have avoided or dragged their heels on the issue. “I would say many politicians are scared to talk about climate change because they are fearing that they might lose supporters,” he says. He’d like to see the issue dealt with as an extremely serious and pressing social and economic matter rather than a vote-buying issue or a political shield to deflect from controversy.
Nazemi says the scientific community has done its job of sounding the alarm on the environment and climate change—now it’s time for the public to do some homework. “You can go back to the 1980s and you have people warning about the effect of warming and greenhouse gas emissions and the consumerism mentality which basically relies on a lot of emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The science community is very vocal about that. However, the public perception of climate change is very much driven by politics. That is the main issue that I, and a lot of my colleagues see.”
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