Climate change threatens small economies and communities

graphic by Caitlyn Yu

Communities around the world are seeing increasing effects of climate change. One of such community is that of Canadian skiers.

Daniel Scott, Executive Director of Waterloo’s Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change (IC3), is the lead author of an article in the Nov. edition of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism that details the impact climate change will have on the multibillion-dollar ski industry. 

“If we do not achieve the Paris Agreement, in the latter half of the century, only high-elevation areas of Vermont and New Hampshire and select ski areas in Québec will be able to maintain a 100-day season and open regularly over the Christmas-New Year holiday,” Scott said in a media release. 

Under low emissions, ski season length is predicted to decrease by nearly 20 per cent by 2080. Under high emissions, season length could decrease by double that, cutting season length nearly in half before the end of the century.

Scott explained that many areas will suffer the impacts of a rising global temperature. In addition to skiers missing out on winter fun, economies of smaller communities are under threat.

“Some of these smaller towns depend on [ski resorts] for jobs. Most of these ski areas are closer to sort of smaller towns, so their economies are not as diverse. It’s partly why we do the research­–to give as much lead time to these communities to give a head’s up,” Scott said.

In addition to the economy, Scott explains that a big reason that climate research is done on industries is to engage the impacted community.

“The reason we do some of that work is, again, to inform smaller communities that part of their economy may be lost, but also to engage people. The closer you bring it to home and make it meaningful to something they do, maybe birdwatching, maybe certain species change, maybe skiing, maybe sports, that’s how you engage people, by connecting it to something they care about,” Scott said. 

While climate change has been a worsening problem for decades, it has been grossly overlooked by many sectors of society.

“We haven’t listened to scientists for 25 years, who pretty much said the same things I’ve been saying for 27 years, we procrastinated, procrastinated, procrastinated, that’s what governments have done,” Scott said. “In the last two or so years, I’ve seen a real difference; in the signing of the Paris Agreements, by governments, businesses as well, and certainly the youth voice has really activated significantly in the last two years, so we’re in a different place [socially] than we were in the last 32 years, so there is some optimism from that momentum.”

Despite the positive steps taken, Scott believes it is too little action, too late in the game.

“When you look at the scale of the transition that would have to happen to achieve a 1.5 or even a two degree [temperature increase] which is what the Paris Agreement aims for, that’s just not in the cards when you look at the pledges that have been put forward by countries to date,” Scott said.“Holding to 1.5 and 2 degrees, I have to be scientifically honest, I don’t see that happening for economic, political, and social reasons. If we could stick below three degrees I would be thrilled.”

UW currently invests in fossil fuels, with 68 million dollars invested as of 2017­—which many students have protested. Scott believes UW should do their part in resisting climate change by divesting as soon as possible, both for environmental and financial factors.

“In the long term, if you invested in different funds and portfolios without fossil fuels, you would already be doing better than if you were invested in fossil fuels,” Scott said. “So not just in a climate perspective, but purely from a financial perspective, we should [divest] at the earliest opportunity.”

Matthew Grant, director of Media Relations at UW, defended the university’s position on sustainability.

“We’re proud of the work the university has been doing around climate change, which goes beyond its important contributions to research and scholarship,” Grant said.

According to Grant, UW is the first educational establishment that has commited to use environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles when making investment decisions and is also the first to host the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and committing to use ESG principles as an important lens when making important investment decisions.

“We’re in the process of developing our first ever Climate and Energy Action Plan,” Grant said. “The Action Plan, when completed, will outline what further actions we can take.”

Individuals can do their part in reducing climate change by recognizing how their actions impact the environment.

“There’s no one answer to [reducing your ecological impact]; the starting point for everybody is if they calculate their own carbon footprint…It’s really person-dependant, but [a major] part of the process is to discover where your biggest source of emissions are, and then adjust them accordingly,” Scott said.

In the big picture, the world stands to lose a lot more than skiing terrain if climate change cannot be dealt with.

“The loss of [the ski industry] is peanuts compared to the species lost, both marine and terrestrial, floods, [and] fires that affect our own country, as well as many other parts of the world where you have hurricane related damage, agricultural losses, the ability for self-sufficiency and food security in some parts of the world. Sea levels rising will have some couple hundred million people displaced from coastal regions, so there’s a whole lot of other reasons to be concerned about climate change, beyond skiing,” Scott said.


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