Tag Archives: Greenhouse gases

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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