Photo: Energy choices risk climate chaos for Atlantic Canada

Although fossil-fuel activities have been in Atlantic Canada for decades, proposed new on- and offshore energy projects will likely put Atlantic Canada's existing economy and way of life at risk. (Credit: Kenny Louie via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation-Quebec Science Project Manager Jean-Patrick Toussaint

David Suzuki Foundation supporters who live in Western Canada often have eyes riveted on Ottawa to see what the federal government's next move will be when it comes to environmental issues. So we sometimes too easily overlook Canadians in the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador — coastal regions, like ours, on the front lines of climate change.

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As oceans warm, water expands and sea levels rise. Melting glaciers, icebergs and ice sheets add to the water volume. Scientists predict oceans could rise by more than a metre before the end of the century. They're also increasingly convinced that escalating carbon emissions are linked to the risk of extreme weather events and intensified storms, such as the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or super storm Sandy in the U.S. in 2012. A key finding from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is that Atlantic Canada faces similar risks if climate change is left unchecked, with more severe storms causing surging tides, flooding and widespread coastal erosion.

For his captivating documentary, Climate Change in Atlantic Canada, Ian Mauro, an environmental and social scientist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, interviewed farmers, fishers, local residents, First Nations community members, scientists and business people from all around the Atlantic provinces. All say climate change is affecting their communities and livelihoods. They also agree something must be done and that the "business as usual" scenario is no longer an option.

The heart of the problem is our seemingly unquenchable thirst for mainly fossil-fuel based energy resources. As our desire for comfort and efficiency grows, so does our energy consumption, prompting the search for sources increasingly difficult to extract. The words tar sands, shale gas, offshore drilling and fracking have only entered our vocabulary in just the past few decades — including in Atlantic communities, many of which now also rely on these fossil-based industries to fuel economic prosperity.

But with current talks about oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, shale gas fracking in New Brunswick, and moving tar sands bitumen from Alberta to the East Coast, we must ask if economic profit and prosperity for a few are worth the environmental and social risks to so many — especially when the latest IPCC report suggests that to avoid global catastrophic climate chaos, we must leave much of the known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground.

In light of what the scientific community is telling us about the scope and impacts of climate change — largely a result of burning fossil fuels — we owe it ourselves and our children and grandchildren to consider the implications of the choices we're about to make in Atlantic Canada and the rest of the country. As former Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Scott Vaughan reminded us before leaving his position earlier this year, Canada is not prepared for a major oil spill off the East Coast. And, as New Brunswick Chief Medical Health Officer Eilish Cleary points out regarding the economics of shale gas development, "[We] cannot simply assume that more money equates to a healthier population."

Coastal regions such as Atlantic Canada have a long cultural history based largely on fishing, tourism and other marine activities. Although fossil-fuel activities have been in Atlantic Canada for decades, proposed new on- and offshore energy projects will likely put Atlantic Canada's existing economy and way of life at risk, affecting tourism and fishing in the ocean and on rivers like New Brunswick's famous Miramichi.

When it comes to climate change, our future will not be determined by chance but by choice. We can choose to ignore the science, or we can change our ways and reduce carbon emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels. It's up to us and our leaders to consider and promote energy alternatives and other solutions that modernize our energy systems, provide a clean, healthy environment for our families and offer long-term economic prosperity.

I'll be touring Atlantic Canada with local and national experts at the end of November, premiering Mauro's film and holding conversations with Atlantic communities about climate change and energy issues. Please join us and be part of the solution!

November 21, 2013

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Nov 29, 2013
5:22 PM

I cannot understand why the investment advisers of oil companies are willing to go to such cost to fight and subvert anti pollution activisim and clean air legislation when the profit power future is obviously going to shift to harvesting sunshine heat by the new carbon sheet plastics that convert solar light to electricity without heavy investment infrastructure. The cost is dropping Drilling ,and refining, shipping and transporting becoming increasingly costly. Hiring media commentators to oppose local laws and inspections which were written to preserve air and water from stenches and contamination appear to be bribery and leave distrust and suspicion, Current oil well profits could be better invested in the future of cheaper solar power equipment

Nov 28, 2013
2:53 PM

Tom Harris, a well-known PR man for a number of shady organizations over the years that have variously denied the existence of climate change, its human causes, or the need to address it, is being disingenuous as usual. Although the IPCC Fifth Assessment report does say scientists have found no evidence of a past increase in cyclone frequency, they have found evidence for increased intensity in wind speeds and precipitation and for increases in other extreme weather events.

We would expect no less from Harris and the organizations with which he is or has been affiliated. The “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” report that he refers to is deliberately named to sow doubt and confusion around serious issues like climate change – a tactic often employed by Harris and his associates. (Similar to his misnamed International Climate Science Coalition – a fossil fuel-promoting propaganda organization that keeps its funding sources secret.) The report is a non-peer-reviewed bit of nonsense, sponsored by the Heartland Institute, a U.S. organization that receives funding from fossil fuel and mining interests and that has compared the world’s climate scientists to the Unabomber!

Harris is right, however, that proper preparation is important when dealing with the impacts of climate change and extreme weather – and that includes not only some of the measures he suggests, but also trying to limit and slow climate change by moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy coupled with energy conservation.

For more information on Tom Harris and the various organizations he is involved with, see these links:



Heartland Institute:


Ian Hanington Senior Editor The David Suzuki Foundation

Nov 22, 2013
7:17 PM

I do not agree with the statement in David Suzuki’s article: “They’re also increasingly convinced that escalating carbon emissions are linked to the risk of extreme weather events and intensified storms, such as the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or super storm Sandy in the U.S. in 2012.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its 2013 assessment report that “current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone (typhoons and hurricanes) frequency over the past century,” a period during which the Earth generally warmed and carbon dioxide also rose.

The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change report asserted: “In no case has a convincing relationship been established between warming over the past 100 years and increases in any of these extreme events.”

We are actually now near a 30-year low in worldwide Accumulated Cyclone Energy, a measure of total tropical cyclone activity. So, it is not surprising that the IPCC has just concluded that it has only “low confidence” that damaging increases will occur in tropical cyclones due to global warming.

Rather than trying to mitigate (i.e., stop) these storms, something we have little chance of accomplishing, we must prepare for them by burying electrical cables underground, reinforcing buildings and taking other actions. Thousands of people died in the Philippines because they were not properly prepared. Yet, when a similar typhoon hit Queensland, Australia, in 2011 no one died because they were ready. Proper preparation, not mitigation, is the best approach to dealing with typhoons and hurricanes.

Tom Harris Ottawa (The writer is executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)

Nov 21, 2013
7:09 PM

The big problem is that when you say choice, you really mean the choice of our elected officials and I am sure that any party elected, once in power will make the decision for the better short term profit of the big corps. I really don’t know what we can do to force them to make the right choices its too late. I know what my choice is. But I also know that the majority of the population will not agree to return to the way humans lived 100 years ago. We need workable solutions to replace hydro carbons. Those solutions need to not only provide the power need. They need to replace the profits of the big corps.. They are the ones making the decision…

Nov 21, 2013
5:33 PM

Please come to Fall River NS, where Sobeys (who market themselves as making “sustainable attainable”) are planning to build a gas station — against community wishes — on the shore of Lake Thomas, storing 68,000 litres of gas below or at lake level. ( The issue is a perfect example of the above story — those who argue for it (incredible, but a minority does) cite convenience and need for gas, and evidently prioritize this ahead of clean water and climate change brought about by an over-dependence on fossil fuels. I think informed discussion would be of huge benefit to the community.

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