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Climate change a very real issue for Northern Ontario

Making polluters pay leads to good things says environmental commissioner

Ontario's Environmental Commissioner Diane Saxe visited Sudbury on Jan. 8 for a sobering talk on climate change in Northern Ontario.

The picture painted by Saxe during her 45-minute presentation was a rather bleak one at times, as she explained that is too late to be thinking soley about reducing greenhouse gas emissions or about trying to adapt.

"We have to do both," said Saxe. "We're already seeing the highest temperatures in human history, we blew away record temperatures in 2016, we also blew away records of how many records we blew away."

Saxe explained that Ontario is warming at a faster rate than the global average, and Northern Ontario is warming at a rate faster than the province as a whole. While average temperatures and precipitation numbers have been increasing steadily, average numbers do tend to mask most of what really matters when it comes to climate change.

With the changing climate, it's the extreme weather events that increase and become far less predictable, and these are the things that have a very real and close to home effect on everyone.

The risk of extreme weather events has increased by four times in comparison to a generation ago. Events like flooding, forest fires, wind storms and droughts are becoming far more prevalent around Ontario.

The most expensive storm in the province in 2018 was the wind storm that blew through Ontario on May 4, causing an estimated $500 million in damages. Extreme weather events will also make it difficult for some to get home insurance, and up to 10 per cent of Canadian properties may soon be too high of a risk for private sector insurance companies to insure due to flood risks.

A packed house at the Living With Lakes Centre listened intently as Saxe flipped through slide after slide of climate data, while taking some subtle jabs at the Ontario government which turfed her position in November of last year.

Saxe still has a job until May 1, but hers was one of three that was part of a round of cuts that saw the environmental commissioner, child advocate, and the French language services commissioner all axed.

The province was slowly making headway with cap-and-trade, says Saxe, but that work is all for naught as the Ford government passed legislation in October to cancel the system.

"Ontario does know what works, cap-and-trade was starting to work don't let anyone tell you it wasn't working, it was absolutely starting to work," said Saxe. 

"It needed time, you can not turn around an $800 billion a year economy 80 per cent dependant on fossil fuelled energy in a year and a half. But it was starting to work and it was starting to work amazingly, because when pollution is free, the financial people don't have to think about it. When pollution costs something, even if it's not very much, they do, and once they started thinking about it they found they had all kinds of young people with good ideas and were reinvesting the money in pollution reduction."

Tuesday's talk was hosted by four local organizations whose primary focus is the environment, including reThink Green, Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, Sudbury Naturalists, and Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Cathy Orlando of Citizens' Climate Lobby was seated front and centre for Saxe's presentation, and was joined by her daughter, Sophia Mathur, who delivered opening remarks on the evening and is planning to skip school one Friday per month to demand action and raise awareness around climate change.

"I'm very worried that adults haven't been doing enough about climate change," said Mathur. "It's the greatest threat to human health this century, and I think adults need to work harder and find solutions."

Also in attendance was Richard Eberhardt, development and communications director with Green Economy Canada. Eberhardt says that there could still be misconceptions among Northern Ontario residents about the effects of climate change on the area.

"The only thing the average Northern Ontarian needs to do is look around the food aisles and look at where the food is coming from," said Eberhardt. "If you think that we can build a wall around where we are here and say that the impacts felt here in Northern Ontario are going to be lessened because we're lucky enough to have a relatively pristine environment around us, then they don't understand the problem."

You can get full reports from Saxe's presentation and more at

Matt Durnan

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