The Threat of Climate Change Looms Over Canadian Farmers

Hotter summers and wetter winters could wreak havoc on Canada’s environment

(Nicola Kwit)

A statement issued by the Senate of Canada last month foreshadows a damning future for Canadian farmers facing climate change.

Members of the Senate’s agriculture committee, who wrote the release, heard from farmers, academics, and other industry experts who stated that farmers and foresters across Canada will have to adapt to a slew of problems brought on by a changing climate.

Kent Mullinix, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at KPU, says that this future will have potentially disastrous consequences unless tangible action is taken. He warns that, because of climate change, Canadians can expect to experience much wetter winters and spring seasons as well as warmer and drier summers. These shifts in climate often lead to droughts and heavy flooding, which delay the growing season.

“Climate change is real. It is happening now,” he says. “If we continue to burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we can expect this to worsen and worsen.”

The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 400 parts per million (ppm), but Mullinix warns that we are on the trajectory towards 450 ppm by the end of the 21st century. He says that, if it reaches the 450 ppm threshold, “Canada is expected to become a dust bowl.”

According to Mullinix, Canadian farmers will have to adapt to the changing climate by utilizing farming methods which are not rooted in the burning of fossil fuels, but rather in regenerative and clean energy. The statement from the Senate of Canada adds that farmers will also have to engineer a way to supply water to livestock and irrigate fields, and that they’ll have to combat invasive species and insects.

Mullinix adds that the Canadian government and other global governments are talking about the problem but are unwilling to pursue viable solutions due to the fact that they would potentially affect the economy.

“Adaptation is no substitute for mitigation,” says Mullinix. “And we have to curtail additional, excessive greenhouse gases being emitted now. I mean, we’re past the eleventh hour. We are nearly at midnight.”

One of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions is the food industry. Five units of energy are needed to provide one unit of food energy that humans consume. Mullinix says that the current food and agricultural system yields a “negative return on energy investment” because fossil fuels must be burned to create the product.

He adds that society must change its ways in order to combat this issue. One of the ways this can be done is by purchasing food from local producers who are trying to be more environmentally sustainable, like vendors at farmers markets.  

In considering some of the other long-term effects of climate change, Mullinix cites the collapse of agricultural systems in areas of California and Mexico as well as the skyrocketing prices of food—trends which he says will continue to become more severe as climate change worsens. Certain foods may no longer be able to grow in the environments they’ve been grown in for ages. Farmers in B.C., for example, are having difficulty with growing and harvesting potatoes.

Another problem is the havoc that natural disasters could wreak on local farmlands. Severe storm surges and floods could inundate farmland with water, and in the summer, the same land could succumb to drought. Five per cent of land in B.C. is fertile farmland, but only half of it is properly utilized because much of the Lower Mainland’s farmland is used for commercial development. Because it is a non-renewable resource, Mullinix believes that farmland must be protected.

“Our big imperative is sustainability,” says Mullinix. “We have to figure out how to live here on Earth without destroying our mother, which is mother Earth.”

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