Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Written by Stuart Cumner
February 1, 2020
A belated Happy New Year to all our readers – let’s hope 2021 will be better for both humanity, and the earth! I’m pleased to be writing my first article for NftP and look forward to contributing from time to time in the future. Thank you for all that you are doing to deal with the climate crisis - our collective action will make a difference.
In researching this NEWS piece, I was interested in seeing where we are climate crisis-wise, where we may go, now President Biden is in charge south of the border, and something that can immediately be done, by most of us, to help in the climate crisis battle.
Let’s start with the BBC’s The State of the Climate in 2021. The Beeb considered five climate crisis indicators when assessing the state of the planet at the end of last year. These were carbon dioxide levels, temperature of the planet, Arctic ice area, permafrost melting and deforestation.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide reached record levels last year. The pandemic lockdown, while reducing emissions, had a negligible impact on the overall upward trend of this most abundant of greenhouse gases.
The planet is getting hotter, with the last decade being the hottest on record. Last year was the hottest ever in Europe and joint hottest globally (with 2016). Unprecedented wildfires, whose severity is tied to global heating, devastated a number of countries including Australia and the United States.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world (helping to explain why Canada is warming faster than most countries), changing the dynamics of local ecosystems and contributing to sea level rise. Arctic sea ice area was at its second lowest level on record. As ice melts, the less reflective water produced absorbs more heat, driving global heating. Due to warming, a large part of the Nunavut ice shelf separated off into the Arctic Ocean.
Permafrost, which keeps huge amounts of carbon dioxide locked away, along with the more potent greenhouse gas, methane, is warming rapidly. Several places in the Arctic Circle reached 45 degrees Celcius last year, accelerating permafrost melting and the release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.
The rate of deforestation has declined globally, but not enough, say experts. Forests play a vital role in combating the climate crisis. Forest trees and their soil lock up 45% of all carbon that is found on land! While planting trees is important, protecting forests is even more vital as we move forward.
And some good news! As I write this, on his Inauguration Day, President Biden has signed his first executive orders. The sweeping changes he has made bodes well for the environment. While the changes will be jarring for some, the renewed focus on climate crisis issues will be welcomed by a world that is struggling to meet its Paris Climate Accord goals. Indeed, the United States will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord as soon as possible. As President Biden said, “A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear”.
The Keystone XL pipeline project, that was to carry bitumen and oil from Alberta south into the U.S. was cancelled. Environmentalists and indigenous groups have been fighting this project for years. Transporting materials through pipes leads to leaks which can have devastating consequences for the environment, as NftP’s Dr. Martin Bush pointed out in his Climate Zone article. While trains, which may carry much of Alberta’s tar sand bitumen and oil to Texas for refining, do produce less spillage than pipelines, they are not a great alternative with their high emissions and risk of spills and explosions. The hope is that Alberta will recognize oil is becoming a thing of the past and switch to renewable energy sources. Leaving bitumen, oil and gas in the ground will not only keep more carbon stored and out of the atmosphere but will also mean there is no damage to ecosystems caused by the processes of extraction. While the suffering Alberta economy will be impacted, there is an opportunity for a jobs transition to renewable energy sources. As Texas has discovered, renewable energy has the potential to produce many jobs for those currently in the oil business, One underutilized renewable energy source is the coastal winds of Eastern Canada. Thousands of jobs will be generated when this source of clean, renewable, energy is developed.
And finally, something you can do the next time you use Zoom to help combat the climate crisis. In these Zoom times we are seeing a positive impact on the environment with less travel being required. However, we can help reduce global heating even further by shutting down our video when using Zoom. According to recent research turning off your video camera during Zoom (or other video conferencing) reduces the carbon footprint of your call by 96%! An hour of Zoom use with the camera on generates up to 1 kg of carbon dioxide and uses 2 to 10 litres of water. How? The carbon footprint is largely due to data storage and transfer as well as data processing which uses electricity with its consequent carbon and water footprints. So, next time you Zoom please consider switching off the camera to help the climate crisis - it means you can also go online in your pajamas!
About the Author
Stuart Cumner has been a Science and Biology teacher for close to 40 years. He is a member of Markham’s Environmental Advisory Committee, Drawdown Markham and Seeds to Saplings.
About NftP Climate News
The goal of NftP Climate News articles is to highlight 3 to 4 recent news articles on climate change. We want to provide a brief summary to help our members stay up to date on what’s happening climate-wise. Although there can sometimes be a lot of bad news, we are striving to balance this out by including at least one piece of good news.