Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Climate change's effects on region residents

Our atmosphere, seen at sunrise here in Nolalu, is actually incredibly thin
Researcher Kelsey Jones-Casey gave a summary of her study on climate change at Lakehead University last week and asked a few of her interview subjects to speak out. I was one of them.
I mentioned how there were no ticks in the Nolalu area when we raised our children here 30 years ago and now the place is tick heaven. We believe the ticks came with the deer which did exist here back then but were an oddity. This was moose country. Now you can go a full year without finding a moose track in this township. The main thing going on is the deer carry a parasite that is fatal to moose. The deer have flourished because of our milder winters, especially the lack of snow.
Once rare, wolves are now abundant
As I've mentioned here before, the deer heavily browse many tree species to the point there is no regeneration taking place for white cedar or any of the pines: white pine, jackpine and red pine. Lots and lots of deer mean lots and lots of wolves. They are the second-most photographed animals on my trail cameras after deer.
I mentioned two events that I've seen at Red Lake. During our 26 years of running the camp we had one stretch of about six years where only about 10 per cent of the loons successfully raised chicks. The problem was the lake level kept rising after the loons had made their nests. Almost all of the nests flooded and the eggs were lost. There is a water control dam on Red Lake operated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry so I asked them if they would open it until the loon nesting season was over in late June. They eventually did so but it made no difference anyway -- the lake kept rising throughout the summer. This went on for years. Although many of those summers did not seem to have more rainy days than normal, what was going on was increased precipitation any time it did rain. Instead of it raining one-half inch in a storm, it rained two inches.
We need to do things differently if we want to change things
The natural cycle for the lake level should go something like this: when all the snow from the winter melts in the spring, the lake should be at its highest. This is when the loons make their nests, one body's length away from the water since they cannot walk on land. Then as the summer progresses the water level continually falls. Not only is there less water draining into the lake from creeks and rivers but also a great deal of evaporation takes place. These days there is very little snow to melt and the biggest precipitation events happen in the summer.
Fortunately, loons are a long-lived bird, likely reaching 20-30 years. They were able to go six years in a row without nesting success with no observable drop in population. Eventually there were some drier years and they successfully fledged young again. Although nothing drastic happened it did show how climate change can affect loons.
I said at the session that had we lost the loons I would have been seriously bummed. Loons have been my neighbours all my life. I know what their calls and body language mean. If I could have a totem creature it would be them. The call of the loon is the call of the wild. It is the sound of Canada.
The other event I mentioned was the near-collapse of the lake trout. Although now on the rebound we came close to losing these incredible fish. They were over-fished in the 1980s and '90s but their spawning success also took a nosedive. The most likely reason is the warmer water temperatures in the fall. The lake can be no warmer than 12 C during the first week of October or the fish won't spawn.The warmer temperatures might also have made naturally-occurring elements in the rocks on spawning shoals harmful to lake trout eggs.
Of course, I could have just talked about how much warmer it is. Thirty years ago we would be getting the first snow flurries right now. By comparison, today I saw three bluebirds in the yard. The crickets are chirping and there are butterflies flitting about. It is 16 C or 61 F. A week ago it was 31 C or 88 F. Our first frosts used to come in late-August. We haven't even had the first frost this year. By the looks of the forecast it might not happen until late October. This is supposed to be the time when the moose go into the rut, racking their antlers against trees with steam billowing from their noses. Now they would probably prefer to be soaking in the lake.
When I was a kid growing up in Red Lake in the 1960s we wore our snowsuits under our Halloween costumes. It was the same for Brenda in Eastern Ontario and for our kids in the '80s in Nolalu. Invariably that would also be the night of the first snow that stuck all winter. These days it might not snow until mid-December. We are getting very close to having brown Christmases.
Kelsey's study was not about things like changing precipitation and temperature but how people in Northwestern Ontario feel about them. Most of her study subjects are worried. I said I was sad, not about the changes taking place so much but how our societies are not doing enough to stop the carbon pollution that is driving the changes. It's not rocket science. We've known what to do for at least two decades. Get off carbon fuels.
Certainly, I said, we wouldn't be building new pipelines and stepping up extraction of the oil sands. Actually, that is exactly what we are doing.
There are some successes though. Ontario has closed all of its coal-burning power plants. I'm glad I live in Ontario. But most of the changes taking place are coming from individuals, not states or provinces.
Brenda and I have personally done some things. For instance, our home here in Nolalu is so insulated and air-tight that our six-month winter heating bill is the same as a single month in lesser-insulated homes. We also oriented the house so that the long side faces south and put almost all the windows on that side to catch the winter sun. The north side only has three small windows and the main entry doors. Those doors open not into the main house space but rather small rooms that have doors closed to the rest of the building. These airlocks prevent us losing all the warm air in the house when we open the outside doors.
We didn't do all this because we were radicals or left-winged or anything else. We did it because it would save us money and boy, did it ever!
Now that we have retired we have built a sunroom on the south side of the building. This has three walls with almost all windows and our hope is in the winter it will heat itself just from the solar gain. We have a way of circulating that warm air throughout the house.There is a door between the sunroom and the rest of the house which we can close at night.
We also did a few things at camp that used less fuel (and saved us lots of money). For instance, we switched to four-stroke engines for both the fishing boats and the big supply boat. They used one-half the fuel of the older two-strokes. The engines literally paid for themselves.
The only real option is to live sustainably and get off carbon fuels
That is the message the fossil fuel industry doesn't want you to hear: every time you find a way to use less fuel you save money. I like to put it the opposite way, "Keep using lots of fuel and you'll make the obscenely rich oil oligarchs even richer."
When we build our cabin on Red Lake next year it will be solar-powered. No more diesel generator!
The advances made in recent years for such things as solar water pumps and refrigerators are incredible. Ditto for solar lights. We have picked up a couple of solar-powered table lamps for the cabin. Set them outside in the days and they will provide light for up to eight hours.
The only sane choice now is to live sustainably.
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Dennis Sheble said...

Excellent writing Dsn. Keep them coming we have missed hearing from you.
Dennis Sheble
Joliet Illinois

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