Global climate change

Cape Breton Highlands National Park

It seems now that climate change is a very real problem that will affect humans globally. The specific effects it will have in Atlantic Canada are still mostly unknown but most predictions for the region include an increased frequency of severe storms and increased variability of annual precipitation. We are already experiencing great year to year variability in terms of precipitation and temperature, snow depths, freeze-up and growing season.

Predictions for the effects of global climate change in northern Cape Breton have been made by Environment Canada. It will likely create warmer, drier summers and warm winters with as much as 24% more precipitation than we receive now. The life cycles of many species of native plants and animals may be affected by changes in the timing of ice freeze-up and break-up, severity of spring flooding and the length of the drought period in summer. Non-native species from the south may invade the area and diseases such as beech bark disease may flourish in the warmer conditions. The sea level is expected to rise about 0.5 meters in the next 100 years which will result in increased coastal erosion as well as flooding of low-lying coastal areas.

The effects that climate change may have on human life in northern Cape Breton include property damage due to more severe storms and flooding due to variable weather. Wells may dry up more often because of droughts. Fishing may become poorer because the northern fish species that live in and around Cape Breton are sensitive to high water temperatures.

What causes Global Climate Change?

In short, it is the “Greenhouse Effect.” But what is the Greenhouse Effect? Basically, a group of gases in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun close to the Earth's surface in the same way that the clear walls of a greenhouse trap solar heat to help nursery plants grow. A certain amount of these “greenhouse gases” is natural and essential to life on Earth because they make the planet warm enough for life to exist. Carbon dioxide causes 50% of the greenhouse effect. Other gases such as methane, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, ozone and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) make up the other 50%.

Since the Industrial Age, humans have been releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in much greater quantities than normal, mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels. The result is that the atmosphere now has so many greenhouse gases that it is heating up faster than ever before! The change in global temperature affects many things, including weather patterns, air currents, water currents, amount of precipitation, recession of the glaciers - all of the things that make up climate. Because the global temperature is changing, the global climate is changing as well.

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