This summer’s extreme weather won’t seem like an aberration for long, climate researcher warns
Published Aug. 13, 2021 10:46 a.m. ETBy Cameron French
TORONTO — Canadians alarmed by this summer’s extreme weather, including deadly record temperatures in British Columbia and forest fires that have burned towns and blanketed much of the country in smoke, should get used to conditions this bad or worse in the coming years, says a climate researcher from the University of Ottawa.
“I’d say yes, it is,” Geography Professor Antoni Lewkowicz told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday when asked if this summer’s extremes are the ‘new normal.’
“In fact, it may not be as warm (now) as the new normal will be in the future, so this is what we can expect.”
His comments follow a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this week, that said the Earth is warming at a faster pace than previously thought and that drastic actions are needed to prevent catastrophic weather events in the future.
For Canadians, the summer has already produced several reasons for alarm, including temperatures that pushed to a Canadian record of 49.6 C in the town of Lytton B.C. in June, part of a weeklong heat wave that caused 570 deaths in the province, according to a B.C. coroner’s report.
Wildfires have also torn across parts of the country, particularly B.C., burning Lytton to the ground and destroying more than 650,000 hectares as of Aug. 12. There are some 264 fires burning in B.C. and 105 in northwestern Ontario, according to recent data.
There have also been deadly floods in Europe and China, and wildfires have torn through parts of southern Europe, particularly Turkey Greece and Italy, and even Siberia. The Atlantic hurricane season also got off to a quick start, with five named storms by early July.
Lewkowicz, whose research focus is the impact of climate warming on polar regions, said the threat of wildfires has been increased both by periods of extreme and dry heat, but also by higher frequency of lightning which acts as a source of ignition.
“We’re simply seeing more lightning strikes and there have been studies that show the number of lightning strikes have increased, particularly in the north, where in the past… lightning was extremely rare,” he said.
While extreme heat and fires are typically a summer threat, he said the impact of climate change will actually be felt more acutely during the winter as the temperatures rise over the coming decades.
“Living in Canada, some of us we might say ‘oh, that’s a good thing.’ But it’s going to impact our ecology, it’s going to impact water, and so there will be many knock-on effects,” he said.
While there are individual steps Canadians can take to reduce their carbon footprint, such as switching to more efficient LED light bulbs and driving less, Lewkowicz said it’s also important to push for government policies to reduce carbon emissions.
“I hope that the viewers will think about that when candidates, if we have a federal election in the next month or two, come to their door,” he said. “Because we can see the impact of policies.”
He pointed to the example of Norway, where 50% of all new cars sold in 2020 were electric, due in part to government policy that exempted electric vehicles from certain taxes.
He also said it’s important to remember that climate change is a global, long-term phenomenon, and not to interpret future, sudden shifts in weather as a reversal of the trend.
“Next summer may not be as warm as this, and we just have to remember that this is part of a long-term trend, that individual years may differ from that trend, and we expect greater extremes not lesser extremes in the future,” he said.