Climate change could be bad for business

He’s no Al Gore, and his slide show on global warming didn’t have nearly the same dramatic effect as ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.

But Environment Canada climatologist Bill Taylor’s presentation to the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce Jan. 23 served its purpose: it underlined the impacts of climate change on B.C.’s economy.

“There’s sufficient evidence to suggest the climate is changing,” Taylor told the luncheon crowd.

“And there are risks associated with that in terms of various economic sectors.”

Over the next 20 minutes, Taylor — armed with a laser pointer and a Gore-esque PowerPoint presentation — impressively managed to re-state the case for global warming.

Temperatures are rising, he said.

In fact, six of the warmest years on record have occurred in the new millennium, with 1998 registering as the hottest of them all.

What’s more, there could be as much as a four-degree rise in the Earth’s temperature over the next 100 years.

“That’s quite significant,” Taylor said, pointing out the planet was only five or six degrees cooler during the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago.

The consequences of this warming are becoming clearer: melting polar ice caps, changing animal migration patterns and morphing ecosystems.

What does it mean for the economy?

According to Taylor, the answer is a bit of a mixed bag.

Rising temperatures might create opportunities for some industries, but pose serious threats to others.

In the forestry sector, for example, warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers will bring increased drought and fire risk, he said.

The more hospitable temperatures will also facilitate the expansion of pest ranges – most notably, that of the mountain pine beetle, which is already ravaging B.C.

In the longer-term, Taylor said, rising temperatures could also lead to changes in the migration patterns of certain tree species.

Western Red Cedar might move into northern B.C. but disappear from Vancouver Island almost entirely, he said.

Gary Oak, which currently has only a small footprint in the province, will move north, too. So will grasslands.

Shifting his focus to the province’s critical infrastructure, Taylor noted changing climate patterns are already having a severe impact.

Warmer weather has led to storm surges and flooding on the West Coast, damaging roads, bringing down powerlines, and most recently, causing a window to blow out of a downtown Vancouver office building.

It all comes at a huge price.

Provincial disaster assistance costs averaged about $10 million a year between 1999 and 2002, Taylor said.

From 2003 to 2005, that figure jumped to $86 million per year.

“We’ve seen some wild weather,” he said. “And it’s likely these events will increase.”

Strangely enough, in the agricultural sector, climate change might turn out to be a good thing, Taylor indicated.

“Higher temperatures could actually be beneficial,” he said.

“With a longer growing season and potentially higher productivity or higher-valued crops and less frequent winter damage.”

But the increase in precipitation could be an issue when it comes time to plant crops in the spring, he added.

And, with hotter summers, the survival of industries like winemaking — the lifeblood of the Okanagan Valley — will hinge on securing access to adequate supplies of water.

“Without irrigation, none of this will be possible,” said Taylor.

To be sure, the lunchtime lecture gave the chamber crowd plenty to digest on the way back to work.

Beforehand, Taylor had admitted he was doubtful people would actually show up to hear his spiel on the costs of global warming.

“When I got up this morning and had to scrape my windshield, I wondered what sort of audience I might have,” he quipped.

“Because I think for some people, the reaction is: ‘Bring it on.'”