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Why go green?

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We are frequently urged to do our bit for the environment, whether that is by turning to public transport rather than the car, switching off unnecessary lights or just using less water. But why should we?

In a 2009 study, more than 97 percent of climate scientists who took part concluded that human activity was a significant contributing factor in changing global temperatures. Its authors added: "It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes."

Burning fossil fuels creates pollutants that cause smog, which has been linked to problems like respiratory diseases and cancer. But it also creates greenhouse gases, which experts say leads to shorter, warmer winters. Consequently, invasive species like the Asian longhorn beetle are devastating trees, and the likelihood of forest fires increases. Also, the Great Lakes, which make up 20 percent of the world's fresh water supply, evaporate more quickly, which could lead to shortages.

According to the National Quality Institute, Canada faces numerous effects of that climate change:
  • More extreme weather events, such as droughts in the Prairies and ice storms in eastern Canada;
  • Milder winters, hotter summers and higher smog levels, leading to increased cases of asthma and respiratory problems;
  • Changes in some animals’ reproductive cycles and rates;
  • Melting glaciers, which put people at risk of floods and lack of drinking water; and
  • Declining water levels in the Great Lakes, which will dry out rivers and streams and leave forests vulnerable to fire.
Health Canada warns that the effects of climate change are widespread, and serious. It has identified categories of impacts, including temperature-related mortality, weather-related natural hazards, contamination, diseases spread by mosquitoes and other carriers, and exposure to ultraviolet rays.

It says that the changing climate can lead to problems throughout society, such as:
  • Extra pressure being placed on health care services following weather phenomena like floods;
  • Social networks being affected by power outages caused by extreme weather;
  • Livelihoods being harmed by crop failures and droughts;
  • Unavailability of shelter, as occurred after the Saguenay River flood in Québec in 1996; and
  • Damage to critical infrastructures, including those related to food production, water management, sanitation systems and health.
As an example of the threat posed by severe weather, it cites the 1998 ice storm which led to 28 deaths and economic losses of $5.4 billion. Although Health Canada says there are some limited benefits to global warming, such as longer growing seasons in some regions, and possibly fewer deaths and injuries associated with cold weather, it adds that climate change can affect millions of Canadians, with the most vulnerable groups including children, seniors, low income and homeless people and the disabled.

Messages like that have been heeded by the government of Ontario, among others. It produced an environmental action plan which says: "Climate change is a crisis we caused together, and a responsibility we all share, together. So it’s important we act, not only because we can’t ignore the science, not only because we bear the responsibility, and not only because we have an obligation to our children."


 

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