Fredericton – On Saturday, May 5th, Frederictonians gathered over the noon hour to learn about the connection between climate change and extreme weather in New Brunswick on Climate Impacts Day, a global day of action organized by 350.org. The Fredericton event was organized by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.
The event drew attention to three major floods in the last two decades in New Brunswick that normally occur every 100 years. Jim MacLellan with the University of New Brunswick’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Management broke down the science behind climate change for the audience and discussed how New Brunswick’s provincial tree, the balsam fir, will likely disappear from New Brunswick’s forest in the next 100 years as a result of climate change. Eddie Oldfield with the New Brunswick Lung Association spoke about the health impacts associated with climate change, which include respiratory ailments, the spread of vector-borne diseases and stress induced diseases. Carl Duivenvoorden motivated the audience to act on climate change with many inspirational quotes and metaphors. One metaphor he used was the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect is a theoretical phenomenon described in chaos theory whereby statistical modeling shows that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon triggers a hurricane in Texas several weeks later. Duivenvoorden uses this metaphor to illustrate the power of an individual’s actions. Meteorological data from NASA has shown that the hottest 12 years on record have included the last 11 years (2011-1999). Duivenvoorden says that, “If you breathe, this is your issue”.
Stephanie Merrill, CCNB’s Freshwater Protection Director, was at the event. “We have been very active in opposing and engaging the public on shale gas exploration and development. Just one of the reasons to oppose shale gas is its contribution to climate change through a huge increase in emissions for our rural and unindustralized province. We are not connecting the dots between global climate change and brand new fossil fuel infrastructure that sets us on the wrong energy path,” said Merrill.
Merrill has also been working to bring attention to recent roll backs in wetland regulation in New Brunswick. “Over half of our wetlands now have absolutely zero protection. We know of the water retention ability of wetlands. Clearly the government is not connecting the dots between wetland destruction and increased flooding,” said Merrill.
Shaun Bartone, an audience member, commented at the event, “Climate change will force us into an uncomfortable phase in history. So we have to be proactive and prepare for a less comfortable lifestyle. We are in a state of continuous adaptation and change and climate change will just be another phase of that.”
All of Fredericton’s municipal candidates were invited to the event. Mayor hopeful Matthew Hayes and Leah Levac, a Ward 10 candidate, were the only candidates to attend. The University of New Brunswick, the city of Fredericton and the province of New Brunswick have all come under criticism in recent years for their role in paving over the wetlands and woods in Fredericton’s largest urban forest, the UNB Woodlot, located at the top of Regent Street, for big box store development.
Last year, Hayes, the late Jon Oliver with the West Plat Community Association and members of the Conservation Council and Friends of the UNB Woodlot organized a forum called Planning Fredericton. The forum discussed climate justice and how Fredericton can make moves towards better urban planning, watershed protection, public transit and support for local food. A year later, many of the topics discussed at the forum inform Hayes’ platform planks. “We’ve got some of the purest water in Canada, and I want to keep it that way,” said Hayes at the launch of his platform plank on clean water and air on April 30th at Carleton Park on Fredericton’s north side. “Fredericton relies on underground aquifers for its drinking water, and this source goes beyond city limits,” said Hayes.
Referring to shale gas exploration in the province, Hayes said Fredericton needs to be aware of what is happening outside of the city. “We need to recognize that Fredericton does not exist in a bubble. What happens outside our region can affect us negatively, which is why we need to take a strong stance against risky industrial development throughout the province,” added Hayes. “The state of our water and air is essential to our quality of life. As mayor, it would be my priority to protect it.”
Tracy Glynn with the Conservation Council said it is imperative that we make these connections and act. “In a world of bad news where planetary collapse seems imminent, we should find heart in the budding and growing social movements in our backyard. Some call it the Maple Spring. Montreal’s Earth Day rally saw a quarter million people marching together for a freeze on tuition and respect for the earth. A quarter million people!” said Glynn who wore a red square patch in solidarity with Quebec students striking for accessible post-secondary education. She quoted the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition’s recent statement explaining the connections between the students’ struggle and the struggle to save the planet: “The old mentality may have told us to fight our battles separately: Let environmentalists deal with the environment; let workers and students deal with the economy. But a new mentality tells us this is the same fight, because the crises of the climate and the economy have the same root: putting profits before people and the planet. This must be our generation’s quiet awakening.”