Planning for Climate Change Chaos and Cutting Our Carbon Footprint

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By John Francis

Only one other time in history have the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron been this high, this late in the year. That was 1986. Water levels were dropping fast at that point but the ice storm of January, 1987 was still devastating. The current water level is 1.6m (that’s five feet three inches) above where it was seven years ago.

“All this and much more,” as Rick Mercer would say, is available at the Canadian Hydrographic Services website. Historical information for all five great lakes is at: https://waterlevels.gc.ca/C&A/pdf/NetworkMeans2018.pdf 

For up-to-the-moment data from the water level sensing station in Tobermory, go to https://waterlevels.gc.ca/eng/Station/Month?type=1&sid=11690&tz=EDT&pres=0&date=2019%2F12%2F31 (or just navigate in from waterlevels.gc.ca — it’s easy.)

But that leaves us with a number of important questions: 

• could water levels go even higher? 

• what happens if we have a bad winter storm when the water is high? 

• is this the new normal — wild fluctuations? Is this what climate change will look like on the Bruce Peninsula?

Another foot of water would flood the parking at the head of Tobermory Harbour, flood the campground and marina at Lion’s Head harbour and flood a lot of causeways and beaches on the Lake Huron side, perhaps even a few roads. It would make countless cottages and outbuildings vulnerable to storm and ice damage all along both shorelines.

Could it happen? Could the water rise higher than it’s ever been before?

Stay tuned. But in the meantime, put on your shutters and drag all your water toys a long way up on shore.

At its Dec 9 meeting, our council passed a motion “THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT Council formally acknowledge the scientific evidence on climate change and establish a Climate Action Committee, composed of council members, municipal staff and citizens, to recommend evidence-based and collaborative actions to reduce the impacts of climate change on the Municipality and our community for generations to come.”

This is wonderful news. I would like to jump-start the process with a bit of background.

Councillor Megan Myles suggested that when we are constructing facilities that will last for decades, we should consider what changes might occur in those decades. Water level fluctuations and more intense storms are both likely. 

But cultural and economic changes may also be important, for example carbon taxes and carbon footprint shaming. Will they affect the pattern of activity in our communities?

Tourism guru Roger Brooks likes to talk about the 20th century as the “century of the automobile”. He mocks North America’s dependence on gas guzzling cars and points to European cities as examples of what life could look like with a lot fewer cars. In Copenhagen for example, 62% of daily commutes are by bicycle. Cycling is seen as healthy and virtuous.

A lot of resort areas and retirement communities in the USA have relaxed rules about golf carts on their roads. It would be easy to switch that fleet to electric; that will probably happen over the next few years. Most of southern Europe is infested with motor scooters; they dramatically outnumber cars. They too will probably be electrified. Can India’s huge fleet of small urban vehicles be far behind? These are the low-hanging fruit of fighting climate change. But will such vehicles become popular in rural Ontario?

We have a few early adopters of electric automobiles on the Bruce; we have a few early adopters of e-bikes. Coming soon: there are closed-in four-wheel equivalents of e-bikes that are being marketed to seniors (Google “boomerbuggy”). They would get you around our villages with great ease and can be parked almost anywhere. There are also tiny cars out there that make Smart cars look huge; Google “Peel P-50 Globe and Mail” for an interesting story about a 105kg single-seat car.

Will any of this take hold on the Bruce? Will people decide that walking a kilometre or three instead of driving is a good choice? Or cycling? Or taking a small e-vehicle? Or will the gas guzzler remain king? 

Should we plan for more bike and pedestrian lanes on our roads, more electric vehicle charging stations on our buildings?

Fun fact: If you wanted to get to Lion’s Head from Ferndale or Barrow Bay or Whippoorwill, the difference between a car doing 50km/hr and an e-vehicle doing 30km/hr would be about 5 minutes each way. You’d probably save three of those minutes in parking. Unfortunately, all of those roads are terrifying for slow vehicles (and cyclists, and pedestrians).

Other fun fact: I have never spent more than ten seconds finding a place to park my bicycle at Peacocks Foodland in Tobermory. Just saying.