Avoiding the Unmanageable, Managing the Unavoidable

May 21, 2014 – Ottawa, Canada: Men fish with nets in the flooded Britannia Beach Park in Ottawa. The park often gets flooded in the spring.

The recent IPCC report is big news. But what does climate change look like here in Ottawa, and what can we all do to avoid the climate impacts we can’t manage, and manage the climate impacts we can’t avoid?

Climate change is an overwhelming and upsetting topic. Knowing how these changes are playing out in our region can help us figure out where we need to focus our energy and how to take decisive climate action in our daily lives.

So, What is the Unavoidable?  

According to the NCC’s Climate Projections report, the climate in our region is changing in three main ways; Ottawa is becoming hotter, wetter and wilder.  

*Hotter: The region will be hotter in all seasons, with an average temperature increase of 3.2 degrees by 2050.  

*Wetter: The region will experience more precipitation in general and more intense precipitation in fall, winter and spring.  

*Wilder: The region will experience more extreme weather events such as heatwaves, ice storms, tornadoes and wildfires.  

These changes will have wide-ranging impacts on all sorts of aspects of our society from health to agriculture, to infrastructure and the natural environment. While we won’t be able to avoid some of these changes, there are many actions we can take to adapt to these transformations and limit their intensity.

Building Resiliency

To manage in this hotter, wetter and wilder climate we need to prepare ourselves and build our resiliency. Climate adaptation can take many forms, but some of the most important aspects of managing these changes in Ottawa are urban trees, stormwater management and emergency preparedness.

*Keep the shade and protect the trees: Trees are critical to help mitigate the effects of increasing temperatures and the urban heat island effect. The shade created by trees creates a barrier between the sun and dark urban surfaces like roads, which can have a big impact on keeping the city cool! 

*Soak up the storm water: Managing rainwater to make sure it is soaking into the ground as opposed to flowing onto impermeable pavement helps protect our infrastructure and reduce the likelihood of flooding as Ottawa experiences more intense rainfall. 

*Be prepared for emergencies:  To reduce the negative effects of extreme weather events like floods, ice storms or tornadoes, it’s important for us to prepare ahead of time so we know what to do if we’re faced with an emergency. You can do this by establishing designated emergency contacts, an emergency meeting spot for your household away from your home, and informing yourself about your community and local authority’s emergency plans.

Check out this recent episode of our podcast, the Green Room with guest Julia Robinson from the city of Ottawa to learn more about our city’s future climate and the actions we, as individuals and as a community, can take to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change!

Avoiding the Unmanageable

You already know the answer to this question: the only way to avoid the unmanageable, is by drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. There are a few main places where we can focus our efforts when we are looking at eliminating GHG emissions in our city.  

In 2018, 90% of Ottawa’s GHG emissions came from the transportation and building sectors, and the remaining emissions stemmed from waste and agriculture.

So, to avoid the unmanageable climate outcomes in our city and beyond, we must reduce emissions by: 

*Prioritizing sustainable transportation: We can reduce transportations emissions by improving sustainable transportation infrastructure and opting for sustainable modes of transportation like cycling, walking, and using e-scooters and public transportation. Electric vehicles and e-cargo bikes are sustainable alternatives for more intense commercial transportation.  

*Taking our buildings to Net Zero: Energy efficiency and energy retrofits are an essential part of Ottawa’s path to net zero, and reducing energy use and emissions from residential and commercial buildings will have a huge impact in achieving our city’s climate targets.  

*Reducing waste, particularly food waste: Waste, and especially food waste, produces significant amounts of methane, so reducing the amount of food waste we produce is an important aspect of fighting climate change. Diverting food waste from the landfill also reduces the amount of methane produced, as it allows organic waste to go through the decomposition process which produces minimal CO2 and gives us nutrient rich compost for our gardens and fields.

As you can see, we don’t need any crazy new solutions, we just need to buckle down and do the work to implement the solutions we already have at our disposal, and the good news is there are lots of organizations and individuals across the city who are working to make these changes happen! 

Taking Action

On all of these counts, there are many ways each of us can take direct action in our daily lives to reduce GHG emissions and build our community’s resiliency to climate change.

On the personal level, we can work to reduce our emissions in each of these key sectors as much as possible, whether it’s leaving your car in the driveway more often and opting to bike or take the bus instead, or reducing our energy consumption and the amount of waste we produce.

In our spheres of influence, we can advocate for and encourage climate action and emissions reductions in our workplaces, neighbourhoods, or among our friends and family.

And more broadly, we can push for systemic change by contacting elected officials at all levels to implement climate solutions, supporting organizations working to make climate solutions a reality, and getting involved in collective action in our communities.

The recent IPCC report is sobering, but it’s important to keep in mind that what it’s telling us is that we still have options—we still have time to take ACTION right now, so let’s buckle down and do what we have to do!  

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