Tag Archives: Climate Change

Meteorologist Claire Martin

3 Mar

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Date of lunch:
Saturday, March 2, 2013

The company:
Claire Martin is the senior meteorologist for the CBC. Her background is incredible. She is trained as a meteorologist, not as a television personality and has insisted in her time at CBC that the News Weather Centre be staffed with qualified meteorologists who understand the science behind weather. But her lack of formal training in television presenting has by no means impacted her abilities as an on-air personality. She has been named the “Best Weather Presenter in the World” three times by the International Weather Festival.

The food:
We ate at one of my very favourite restaurants in Toronto, Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington. I honestly dream about this place. I want another pizza right now. Claire had the mushroom pizza and I had the prosciutto pizza and we each had a piece of the other’s. My pizza was awesome as usual, thin crust, tons of prosciutto and a perfect tomato sauce. This is my go-to order. Claire’s mushroom pizza had rosemary and gorgonzola and it was also delicious, especially the bites with the cheese. I had a coffee and we both drank water. Total bill was $40 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Claire does amazing work outside of the CBC by traveling and educating people about weather all over the world. Working with the UN’s WMO (World Meteorological Organization), she has travelled throughout Africa, to Afghanistan and other locations and met with locals to teach them about the science of weather and prediction and how it can impact farming, how to sort out insurance for crops and more. In her travels, she often comes across many other people like herself. People with valuable skills, taking their vacation time to travel and educate locals (in weather, law, broadcasting, etc.) and help them to succeed on their own. You often hear about the international aid organizations working in developing countries and their work is extremely valuable (Doctors without Borders being one of my personal favourites) but you very rarely hear about these individuals who are making huge impact all over the world.

The lunch:
When I originally outreached to Claire to arrange this lunch, it was a day or two before Toronto’s big snowstorm at the beginning of February. I always notice when a storm like this approaches, everyone becomes obsessed with the weather. Is it a Frakenstorm? What’s a Nor’easter? Will there be thundersnow? (Okay, maybe it’s only me who asks about that as thundersnow is my fave.) Twitter explodes with nicknames for the storm, Instagram images of snow covered roads, buildings and trees and thoughts on whether Toronto will call in the army. Social media has definitely brought increased interest in weather or maybe it has just illustrated an interest that’s been there all along.

And while observing, talking and complaining about weather often seems like a national past time in Canada, the science behind it is incredibly comprehensive. CBC staffs a team of meteorologists, led by Claire, that work every day to analyze and predict weather. Claire told me the amount of data processed daily by the CBC News Weather Centre is more than the data processed daily by a bank. While Environment Canada provides the images of the current weather systems, the CBC team will work together to analyze its path, timing, impact and what it will mean to regular folks just trying to go about their day. This scientific analysis is why Claire wanted to ensure that her team members were trained meteorologists. She also mentioned that there is an art to the flow of weather patterns and the most successful meteorologists have both the scientific credentials and an artistic side.

I have already shown my love for thundersnow but I wanted to know what type of weather is of most interest to Claire. She didn’t even take a second to think about it: hurricanes. She talked about how this is a weather system that all animals feel, there is a smell in the air, its power is all around you and there’s nothing else like it. Although she wasn’t on-site for Sandy, she has traveled to hurricane sites in the past including Katrina and Wilma. She has seen the destruction first hand and saw it coming in what is likely a clearer lens than most people.

And all of this work and travel has led her to understand climate change like few others. Climate is changing and while human behaviour has sped up the change, climate is going to change no matter what. Although there is continued debate about whether the climate is changing or whether its human behaviour that has caused it, Claire thinks the most important question is not necessarily being addressed – how are we adapting to the new climate reality. Claire discussed how condos are creeping closer and closer to the water’s edge in Florida and destroying some of the natural vegetation that is there to help lessen hurricane damage. She even mentioned Brad Pitt building new homes in New Orleans on stilts. Why is a movie actor doing this and not the government? Building higher levies can’t be the only answer because what happens when those levies are breached? Homes need to adapt to the climate realities.

I left this lunch with the continued bit of regret in my belly that I didn’t study meteorology in university. I think about it sometimes because I do geek out about weather and I was no slouch at physics and math. Ah well, at least I’m able to use my lunch blog to step into the shoes of a meteorologist for a brief moment. The work Claire does is even more interesting that I could have imagined.

Leading International Climate Scientist Dr. Ian Burton

8 Nov

Lunch with Mary 057

Date of lunch:
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The company:
Dr. Ian Burton’s resume is incredible and beyond impressive! He is a professor emeritus with the University of Toronto’s Adaptation and Research Section at the Centre for the Environment and was formerly a senior policy advisor with Environment Canada. Currently, he is a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Bank, European development assistance agencies, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the list goes on. He also received a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report. So I lunched with a Nobel Prize winner, no big deal. The report was honoured that year along with Al Gore’s work on climate change. Incase you are curious as to why it was a Peace Prize, it is because according to the IPCC there is a real danger that “climate changes may also increase the danger of war and conflict, because they will place already scarce natural resources, not least drinking water, under greater pressure and put large population groups to flight from drought, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions”.

The food:
We ate at Kalendar on College St. at Euclid. I was trying to find a quiet spot for lunch but it’s not always easy. Kalendar was quite nice for a lunch conversation with no loud music. However, as the lunch crowd grew it did get a bit noisy. Dr. Burton had the orange and ginger carrot soup and a Kalendar salad. I had a single scroll 5 – a Kalendar specialty. We both seemed to enjoy our meals as we completely cleaned our plates. We both drank water and each had a coffee after our meal. Total bill was $37 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Basically every moment of this lunch was so incredibly interesting. But Dr. Burton was able to really show the immense impact of climate change when he spoke of his work with the government of Bangladesh. The water levels are rising in the Bay of Bengal due to melting ice caps and Bangladesh is slowly going underwater. Unlike the Netherlands where levies and containment walls are doing the trick, Bangladesh is at a far greater risk. The sea around the country is much more susceptible to extreme typhoons. The rivers that run through Bangladesh swell at a much greater rate during monsoons. Basically the water will rise and there’s no stopping it. Already, salt water is seeping into the ground. Dr. Burton told me there are rice fields that have now been converted to shrimp farms. Dr. Burton is working with the government as they develop industries and training that will help citizens move north to cities that are on higher ground. Climate change is happening and people are being affected today.

The lunch:
Dr. Burton and I had to meet this week as he is about to leave for a three week trip to several environmental conferences. He first has meetings in Kampala, Uganda where the IPCC is to adopt a report on climate change and disasters for which Dr. Burton is a Lead Author. He then heads to Cape Town, South Africa where he is helping scientists there have their research published. He then will head to 17th annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) in Durban, South Africa. The COP meets annually to assess the progress in dealing with climate change. It was at this conference in Japan in 1997 that the Kyoto Protocol was created. The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

In 1997, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. With 2012 fast approaching, Canada’s greenhouse gas output is now, according to Dr. Burton, somewhere around 30 per cent higher than in 1990. Now many climate scientists will say that these targets were not well understood at the time of ratification and were perhaps never realistic.

Dr. Burton believes that although there are climate skeptics now, they will come around and the necessary change to reduce greenhouse emissions will happen – likely in something like 50 years. The problem with this scenario, according to Dr. Burton, is that many irreversible impacts of climate change will have already occurred. He told me about scientists in the UK who track different types of plants, insects and animals. Already they are seeing butterflies in northern areas where they were previously unable to survive. Although butterflies floating around doesn’t seem that bad, foreign species can have devastating effects on an ecosystem. In places like the Arctic, roads and buildings are built on permafrost. As that permafrost melts, all of this infrastructure is being destroyed. This impacts industry, jobs, the economy and more. Although it might seem expensive to reduce carbon emissions now, it will be more expensive in the long run.

In the past 100 years or so, the average global temperature has gone up by one degree. Dr. Burton was able to simply explain this to me. One degree might not seem like a lot. But do you know what the average temperature was during the ice age? Only five degrees cooler than today and four degrees cooler than 100 years ago. So each degree has an enormous impact.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a die-hard environmentalist, but listening to the impact of climate change in places like Bangladesh and the Arctic is quite frightening. I hear politicians doubting the validity of human’s impact on climate change. It is depressing when the evidence is quite clear. Hopefully with people like Dr. Burton on the case, we can work to find implementable solutions for both developing and developed nations.

As the COP approaches, you will notice more discussion of Kyoto and emission targets in the news. I will be trying my best to pay close attention as this is something that is really going to affect everyone – all over the world.

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