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‘Intense’: How climate change around the globe is impacting Hamilton

Being a “steel city” comes with more depth than what meets the eye.

Dofasco is the biggest industry steel plant in Hamilton, contributing to just under 5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases being released annually into the atmosphere.

Unintentionally for thousands of years, human activity has been contributing to what we know as climate change. The bigger the city the more greenhouse gas emissions are present.

According to Tariq Deen, Ph.D. candidate in geography at the School of Earth, Environment and Society at McMaster University, “The climate is always changing, think ice ages, but these changes occur slowly over tens of thousands of years, the issue we are currently facing is that global temperature is rising at a rate we’ve never seen before. We know this because we have climate proxies, these are indirect records of the climate, like ice cores and tree rings, that tell us the past levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. When we plot climate proxy data along with observed data, we see a sharp rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide from the late 1800s onwards. This rise also happens to coincide with the Industrial Revolution and when we began burning large amounts of fossil fuels.”

But what is climate change?

Climate change refers to changes in long-term weather patterns caused by natural phenomena and human activities that alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the build-up of greenhouse gases which trap heat and reflect it to the earth’s surface.

On March 27, 2019, Hamilton City Council declared a climate emergency and established strategies to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

In 2022 the Hamilton region’s industry emissions made up 46 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, transportation was 18 per cent and commercial and residential buildings made up 32 per cent.

Hamilton’s Climate Action strategy consists of climate mitigation (reduction of greenhouse gases) and climate adaption (decreasing impacts and preparing for unavoidable impacts of a changing climate).

One example of this comes from Dofasco, Which has confirmed with the Government of Ontario its plan for a $1.8-billion investment in decarbonization technologies at ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s plant in Hamilton. As announced in July 2021, the investment will reduce annual CO2 emissions at ArcelorMittal’s Hamilton, Ontario operations by approximately 3 million tonnes, which represents approximately 60 per cent of emissions, the company said.

Road map for Dofasco to reach net 0 emissions.

Another example is The Better Homes Hamilton Program, a pilot program offering Hamiltonians the opportunity to upgrade their natural gas furnaces with electric heat pumps. The pilot stage of the program is targeting 50 homes and providing them with a $20,000 interest-free loan.

An example of climate adaptation involves decreasing impact and preparing for unavoidable changes of climate change, including preparing the environment by improving sidewalks, reducing weather-related disruptions and helping the community reduce risks of climate-related hazards.

Craig Cassar, Ward 12 councillor, sits on the newly founded Climate Change Advisory Committe.

“When it comes to an issue as big as climate change, myself as a person can only do so much, but as a councillor, we can offer incentives ‘if you do this, there could be a benefit for you,’” he said.

According to the Carbon Disclosure Project, a CDP questionnaire reveals, “Since the City Council declared a climate emergency in March 2019, finance staff estimate that between 2019 and 2022 approximately $57.3 million has been invested in climate-positive actions ranging from electrification of vehicles/equipment to stormwater management.

Between 2019 and 2022, a Climate Change Reserve has been established, with the most recent 2023 Municipal Budget approving a 0.25 percent tax, or approximately $2.5 million annually. This funding will be used to finance climate mitigation and adaptation projects across the city and the community.”

On December 12, 2015, Canada and 194 other countries reached the Paris Agreement, an agreement to fight climate change to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

According to United Nations Climate Change, “To limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius, greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 and decline by 43 per cent by 2023.”

Going beyond the 1.5-degree benchmark significantly heightens the risk of catastrophic warming-related disasters. These may include more intense wildfires, complete melting of the ice burgs resulting in rising water levels and submersion of coastal regions, warming of the oceans, intensified hurricanes- the series of events goes on and on.

“We should expect to see more extreme weather events. We’ve already started to see this, whether it’s an earlier fire season, bigger floods, or longer heat waves, natural hazards will become more frequent and intense across Canada,” Deen said.

Andrew Laursen, a professor of chemistry and biology at Toronto Metropolitan University, has dedicated over 30 years to the ecology of water systems, and greenhouse gases.

“Once the oceans and lakes warm up, several ecosystems die because they can’t survive in that kind of a temperature margin, and when these systems die, hundreds of fish species lose their homes and their breeding grounds which means no growth, no protection from predators. It essentially becomes a vicious cycle.”

2023 was the hottest year on record.

According to the Government of Canada “In Canada, the national average temperature for the year 2022 was 1.2 degrees Celsius (°C) above the 1961 to 1990 reference value, making it the 16th warmest year since 1948. Nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred during the last 25 years, with 2010 being the warmest on record (3.0°C above the 1961 to 1990 reference value). Canada’s coldest year since 1948 occurred in 1972 at 2.0°C below the reference value.”

Approximately 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. The oceans alone make up 96 per cent of all Earth’s water. Paying close attention to what the oceans are saying, is crucial to climate change research.

“Do I think the human species will go extinct if we don’t reach our goal by 2050? No, I don’t,” Laursen said. But will we suffer, and struggle more than we are now? I believe we will. The climate phenomena won’t be like anything we’ve seen before.”

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