By Jenn Watt
Reactions to the topic of climate change range from flat-out denial to full-blown panic, but in between rest possibilities.
An acknowledgement of the problem, action to slow its effects and adaptation to change will all be necessary in the next century, Peter Schleifenbaum, owner of Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve, told a group of tourism stakeholders Thursday.
Schleifenbaum, a forester, academic and entrepreneur, has seen first-hand how climate change can alter a landscape relatively quickly.
He is in a unique position to know; his property – an 80,000-acre swath of forest and lakes at the northern reaches of Haliburton County – has extensive records and has been the site of scientific study for years.
In the 140 years of records he has of the property, four tornadoes have touched down four times: 1960, 1995, 2006 and 2009.
It’s telling, Schleifenbaum said, that the severe weather has come during the last 50 years – and with increasing frequency.
Environment Canada’s senior climatologist David Phillips said the same thing when he visited the county following the flood that triggered a state of emergency in Minden in 2013.
His advice was to prepare for increasingly violent storms: create stronger buildings, bridges and other infrastructure.
But climate change will bring more than just wet, wild weather.
As temperatures rise, our lakes will become more favourable to warm water fish and those that prefer cold will find it hard to survive in the Highlands.
Animals more commonly found in southern Ontario such as the opossum and rattlesnakes will make their way north. Moose, chickadees, northern flying squirrels and others will find it easier to live in Quebec and northern Ontario.
And warmer weather will aid the spread of insects, many of which like to chow down on our treasured tree species such as hemlock, pine and ash.
Panicking about these eventualities isn’t helpful; our environment is changing and the best thing to do is adapt and try to limit the damage as much as possible.
Schleifenbaum suggested getting behind green technologies and reducing use of oil for energy.
Biochar is one of his favourite methods – a process that traps carbon, creates fuel and can enhance soil – but there are many others.
Our businesses will also need to shift to new realities. Embracing diversity is the best bet. (Rather than focusing on lake trout fishing, consider moving to bass or both; instead of planting solely pine and hemlock trees it’s worth considering black cherry and walnut, for example.)
Haliburton is a long way from international climate talks and it doesn’t offer the landscape for large-scale alternative energy production, but we do have our own issues to grapple with and role to play.
Supporting innovative projects, reducing our use of fossil fuels and diversifying our businesses to not rely too heavily on any one resource is as effective here as it is anywhere.