Heat wave highlights need for local action on climate

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Biodome (1996) >>>>>>>>> Heat Dome (2021) matt palmer

Regina falling behind targets

At the beginning of July, Saskatchewan was hit by a heat wave that broke records across the province. According to Environment Canada, areas such as Lucky Lake and Saskatoon both reached temperatures of 40 C. Regina peaked at only 35.3 C, but that still smashed its previous record of 33.9 C, which was set more than a century ago in 1886.

The worst of the heat dome occurred with hundreds of fatalities in Western Canada, especially in British Columbia, where the town of Lytton suffered the hottest recorded day in Canadian history at 49.6 C. During the peak of the heat wave, Lytton was ravaged by fire and the entire town of 250 residents had to find shelter in a nearby town. 90 per cent of the town has been destroyed.

In an interview via Zoom, Dr. David Sauchyn, a professor and researcher in geography and environmental studies, explained how the heat wave occurred by stating, “the circulation of the atmosphere is such that it brings an area of high pressure and hot air to Western Canada and if it’s moving slowly then the heat builds up. If it is dry then water has a cooling effect, so if there’s not much water it’s going to amplify the heat.” He then referenced Yellow Grass and how they were previously experiencing a drought, so they were hit hard by the heat wave, giving them one of the hottest temperatures in Saskatchewan.

When asked about how climate change has played a role, Sauchyn said, “these natural systems are now happening in a climate that has been warmed by human beings […] it is a very serious event […] even to think that we would have a temperature of almost 50 C in Canada is almost inconceivable,” Sauchyn said. “Hundreds of people died in B.C.” He emphasized that water is a key factor in whether it is simply a better year for crops or, alternatively, if there is no water then there will be drought, and worse, heat domes.

On a local level, the city and University of Regina both have their own plans to combat climate change via uregina.ca and regina.ca.

University of Regina

The U of R has a plan that is constructed of three main components: reduce greenhouse gasses, using the school as a “living lab,” and reducing the amount of waste and usage of water. Sauchyn said that “it’s good the university is trying to reduce their waste and carbon emissions, that’s a local initiative […] climate change is a global phenomenon, but it has local impacts.”

The university wants to hire someone for a sustainability position to report on their greenhouse gas emissions and determine more ways to be environmentally friendly. They also want to work with governments on different levels to develop technologies that can help, and to put more of a spotlight on environmental research. The university aims to closely watch the usage of water on campus to learn where it is being wasted. Expanding on that, prioritizing research on water supply and consumption is also integral to the university. The end goal for the university’s plan is for a “25 per cent reduction in [their] ecological footprint.”

City of Regina

There are three parts to Regina’s plan which are slightly more simple than the university’s. They are: environment, transportation, and infrastructure. The environmental aspect promises more trees and canopying, where the trees cover the streets more to make them more cool and habitable.  Sauchyn said “Regina is a little bit behind, certainly urban planning can shelter us from the heat […] we realize how important green space is in times like this.” He added that “it’s the most vulnerable parts of our population that most need these public spaces.”

The transportation section speaks about encouraging citizens to buy and use electric vehicles and designing communities to be more efficient for the members. Sauchyn believes that this sector in particular plays a large role in the success of a sustainable city, and stated that “the transportation model in Saskatchewan is to own a car.” He said that shifting from that model is a necessary component of a climate solution. “Transportation is a big part of the solution.” Finally, the city describes that infrastructure will need to be more efficient in terms of energy use, water, and carbon dioxide emissions. The City of Regina plans on being 100 per cent renewable by 2050.

More heat waves in the future:

When asked what the future of Saskatchewan is going to look like if climate change continues to worsen, Sauchyn responded, “we have these numerical climate models […] and they give us an idea of what the future could look like and they include heat waves, but they include a much warmer winter, which is the clearest indication that the climate is changing in Saskatchewan. We like to whine and complain about our winters but they are actually much warmer than they used to be.”

One of Sauchyn’s former students is now a meteorologist and is already feeling the consequences of the heat wave. His student will need to adapt for the future climate, Sauchyn explained, “that they are going to have to change their methods of recording temperature because they didn’t expect to have to record temperatures this high. The sensors they have weren’t made for 50 C. Climate change forecast called for this kind of heat decades from now, but not in 2021.” According to Environment Canada the average temperature of winter has gone up 3.3 C from 1948 to 2020.

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